Holyoke woman files suit against city, 2 officers over forceful arrest a year ago

Northampton Police Station

Northampton Police Station STAFF FILE PHOTO

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 04-03-2024 3:55 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A Holyoke woman arrested and pepper-sprayed by two Northampton police officers a year ago has brought a federal lawsuit against the city, claiming she was deprived of her constitutional rights of equal protection under the law and from unreasonable seizure, and that one of the arresting officers had falsely accused her of being violent and resisting arrest during the incident, among other claims.

Marisol Driouech, 60, filed the lawsuit based on an incident that occurred late at night on April 4, 2023, when she was stopped for having a headlight out on King Street by Northampton officer John Sellew. In dashcam video footage of the incident, Sellew can be seen opening the car door and forcibly pulling Driouech out of her vehicle before restraining her on the ground. A second officer, Jonathan Bartlett, arrived on the scene and assisted in restraining Driouech while administering pepper spray.

Driouech was initially charged with five counts as a result of the incident, but the Northwestern district attorney’s office dismissed all charges in the case with the exception of the headlight violation. Though the officers were cleared of any wrongdoing by a review from an outside firm, the dashcam footage of the incident sparked community backlash as well as public criticism from Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra and then-police chief Jody Kasper.

In September, the attorney representing Driouech in the case, Dana Goldblatt, filed a claim for damages with the city, seeking monetary compensation on behalf of her client. Goldblatt told the Gazette she did not receive a response from the city, which is resulting in the subsequent federal lawsuit filed on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Springfield.

“The city has never come to the table,” Goldblatt said. “By law, I am required to file a claim to the city and they have six months to respond, and they never responded.”

Alan Seewald, the city solicitor for Northampton, could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday regarding the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges Sellew and Bartlett violated the First, Fourth and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and accuses the officers of “physical force, coercion, and intimidation.” It states as a result of the arrest, Driouech sustained injuries of dizziness, burning in her eyes, hands, and face, bruising and swelling in her face, arms, legs, back, and chest. She also suffered from anxiety, sleeplessness and an inability to work as a result of the incident.

The lawsuit also claims that Sellew lied on his report of the arrest, subsequently libeling Driouech.

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“Defendant Sellew, by falsely, maliciously, and in bad faith alleging orally and in his report that the Plaintiff was resistant and violent, had assaulted him, resisted arrest, and attempted to flee the scene, defamed and libeled the plaintiff,” the lawsuit states.

Driouech is seeking financial compensation in an amount to be determined by a jury, the lawsuit states.

The city’s Police Department had previously been subject to controversy over profiling of Hispanic drivers like Driouech, which is mentioned in the lawsuit, referencing statements made in 2015 by a former lieutenant that he had the ability to identify the cars of “ethnics” and that there is only one Hispanic person in Northampton without a criminal record.

“The pattern and practice by NPD employees of discriminating against Hispanic persons, including targeting them for traffic stops based on ‘ethnic’ cars, was known by the city from at least 2015,” the lawsuit reads, alleging the city took no corrective action to purge the department of the “anti-Hispanic bias.”

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.