Pepper-sprayed man accuses Northampton of racial bias

For most police officers, pepper spray is standard equipment, a tool lauded in the law enforcement world as an alternative to lethal force. But a case in Northampton is raising questions about whether pepper spray is also susceptible to misuse.

Eric Matlock staged a protest outside Northampton City Hall in 2017, blocking the entrance to the building. Police were called, and Matlock was pepper sprayed; arrested; and charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and assault on a police officer.

A jury acquitted Matlock of all of the charges after his attorney argued that his client did not know he was being arrested when he hit a police officer after being pepper sprayed. One bystander testified she heard Matlock say he couldn’t breathe, and called the scene “excessive, disturbing” and that it “seemed unnecessary.”

The Northampton Police Department conducted an internal review and determined the responding officers’ use of force was within department policy, but Matlock is now seeking $700,000 in damages from the city and several officials. Through an attorney, Dana Goldblatt, Matlock is accusing the city’s police department of targeting African-Americans.

“Northampton has a reputation for targeting people of color for aggressive policing and then lying about it,” wrote Matlock in a letter to the city.

Goldblatt said he will seek a jury trial, and admissions of wrongdoing of each of the named defendants, including Police Chief Jody Kasper and five officers.

The letter and potential litigation are in response to “the defendants’ physical assault on the plaintiff, violations of his civil rights, and retaliation for his exercise of protected speech and expressive conduct.”

This is not the first time the liberal western Massachusetts city has found itself in a mess over racism and policing. In 2016, the city agreed to pay Jonas Correia $52,500 in an out-of-court settlement after he was arrested, put on the ground, and maced outside of a bar in 2013. Criminal charges against Correia were eventually dropped.

Police chief Kasper, new back in 2016 at the time of the Correia settlement, said that officers would begin taking trainings covering race and ethnicity, implicit bias, and systemic racism. That was a year before Matlock’s incident.

—SARAH BETANCOURT

 

 

BEACON HILL

The Registry of Motor Vehicles continues to try to dig out from what the Globe calls a “still-widening agency scandal,” sending notices to other states about 45,000 convictions and suspensions of out-of-state-drivers while suspending the licenses of an additional 868 Massachusetts drivers.

There are rumblings about unionizing among staffers in the state Senate, with discontent brewing over Senate President Karen Spilka’s oversight of the internal workings of the chamber. (WGBH News) 

State Rep. Colleen Garry of Dracut and Sen. Dean Tran of Fitchburg are among a group of officials who support a new ballot initiative aimed at trying to prevent Massachusetts from becoming a “sanctuary state.” (Lowell Sun) 

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Two women have accused a former town employee in Abington of sexual assault, only to find their complaints disregarded, they say, by an “animal house” culture at town hall that fails to take harassment seriously. (The Enterprise) 

After being hit by a trio of tornadoes last month, Cape Cod will not qualify for a federal disaster declaration, according to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. (Cape Cod Times) 

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Massachusetts advocates for immigrants say new rules proposed by the Trump administration will lead thousands of state residents to abandon Medicaid health care coverage and not seek other needed services. (CommonWealth)

A Herald editorial slams Sen. Elizabeth Warren over her comment decrying the police “murder” of Michael Brown, a characterization at odds with the official findings from the shooting.

Israel, after first granting permission to two US congresswomen to visit, then reversing itself at President Trump’s urging, shifted its stance once again and gave permission for one of them, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, to enter in order to visit her 90-year-old grandmother who lives on the occupied West Bank. (New York Times) But after first saying she would go, Tlaib now says she won’t go because Israel demanded she agree not to advocate a boycott of the country while there. (Washington Post)

In other news from Trump world, the president has expressed interest in buying Greenland, a self-governing country that is part of the kingdom of Denmark. (New York Times) “It must be an April Fool’s Day joke,” tweeted a former Danish prime minister. (Washington Post)

ELECTIONS

The Massachusetts Republican Party is winning the early rounds of an embarrassing intraparty war with Gov. Charlie Baker’s campaign committee, as MassGOP has recovered access to a huge database of Republican donors while the governor’s committee remains locked out. (Boston Globe)

President Trump rallied supporters in New Hampshire, complete with mocking jabs at would-be Democratic opponents and said voters have “no choice but to vote for me,” because their retirement investments will go “down the tubes” if he’s broomed from office. (Boston Globe)

Sen. Ed Markey has secured endorsements from six of his 10 fellow Massachusetts congressional delegation members as he works to shore up support in the face of two declared Democratic primary opponents. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A well-known whistleblower says General Electric has committed massive fraud on a scale bigger than Enron, sending the company’s shares tumbling 11 percent, but GE vehemently denies the charges. (Boston Globe)

Qdoba has been fined $409,000 for child labor violations at the Mexican restaurant chain’s outlets in Massachusetts. (Daily Item)

The Worcester Red Sox are preparing to start selling tickets for games at their new home, which opens in 2021. (MassLive)

Worcester law firm Bowditch and Dewey is sued for $20 million over pension advice. (Telegram & Gazette)

Garages are being repurposed — and reborn — across the country. (Governing)

A land court judge Wednesday ruled against opponents of a Charlton marijuana facility, opining that, in the context of the town’s bylaws, marijuana cultivation is agriculture and the process of extracting its oils is an acceptable ancillary use. (Telegram & Gazette)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

What could a merger of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Tufts Health Plan mean? (Boston Globe)

ARTS/CULTURE

The trustees of the Jones Library System in Amherst follow the lead of other communities in eliminating late fees. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

TRANSPORTATION 

Four people are reportedly injured after an MBTA ferry from Hingham to Boston ran aground this morning off Long Island. (Boston Globe) The Patriot Ledger has more on the situation.

Wollaston Station is due to reopen today after nearly 20 months of repair work at the Quincy Red Line station. (Boston Globe)

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation is being urged to keep two commuter rail tracks open on the Worcester Line during the relocation of the Turnpike and reconstruction of the viaduct at Allston Landing, which is scheduled to start in 2023. (MetroWest Daily News)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Community leaders hope Vineyard Wind will obtain a critical federal permit that is now expected to be delayed through the end of the year. (Cape Cod Times) 

Concerns over how climate change could hurt New Bedford’s scallop industry were aired as Sen. Ed Markey talked Green New Deal on Thursday (Standard-Times) 

CASINOS

Revenue figures from its first full month of operation show the Encore Boston Harbor casino in Everett is cutting into gambling earnings of Rhode Island and Connecticut casinos, while also setting an astounding new standard for table game revenue by drawing considerably more from those higher-stakes games than from slot machines. (CommonWealth)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A Globe editorial says restoring the pay of suspended Newton District Court Judge Shelley Joseph was the right call by the Supreme Judicial Court in support of the principle of judicial independence.

A captain at a Rhode Island detention center has been placed on leave after he allegedly drove a truck into a crowd of demonstrators, injuring several, who were protesting the facility’s role in holding detainees for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. (Boston Globe)

MEDIA

It’s a wrap for Lynchie: Channel 5’s Mike Lynch anchored his last sportscast last night after 37 years at the station, but will remain a WCVB correspondent. (Boston Globe)

Arizona State University is working on a better way to present news corrections online.