Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Protestors show support for Eric Matlock in court

By Glenn Houlihan

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(Janice Waltzer / Flickr)

Just under 20 protesters filed into the Hampshire District Court to show support for Eric Matlock, a homeless man who was arrested by police outside Northampton’s City Hall on Aug. 4 after silently demonstrating the decision of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (MDCF) to take his children into care.

Video footage of the arrest began circulating on social media shortly after he was taken into custody. The footage shows four officers dragging Matlock away from a railing he was grasping onto, sparking an intense debate over the appropriate use of police force and the right to peacefully protest.

Pepper spray was allegedly used on Matlock during the arrest, and conflicting accounts emerged over the nature of his charges, which stand at disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and assault and battery on a police officer.

Northampton Sgt. Joseph Barszcz reported that Matlock continually refused to act on police instructions to move. In the Gazette, Barszcz said, “Officers told him he was creating safety issues by blocking the entrance of the building,” and that a flailing arm hit an officer during his resistance.

In a statement from the Northampton District Court’s first hearing on Aug. 8, First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne said “this entire situation could have been avoided had the defendant simply complied with the officers’ verbal request to relocate his protest and stop blocking the public’s access to City Hall.”

The second hearing lasted only a few minutes, with a new date,  Nov. 17, granted by the Judge.

Outside the courtroom, Matlock, who remained to attend a second unrelated hearing, thanked those who came to support him. His attorney, Dana Goldblatt, said they were preparing a motion to dismiss the case against him, explaining that they planned to cross examine police officers and put what happened on record.

Matlock said he was unable to comment directly on the case, as it is ongoing.

Justin Kilian, a member of the group supporting Matlock, told The Daily Collegian “the conditions under which we’re supporting Eric should be pretty self-evident.”

“He’s an innocent man who was assaulted by police, with no recourse,” Kilian said. “That can’t be left unchallenged. People need to come together and really make some noise about it, and if that means coming together and being a presence in an arraignment, then you get up early and you go.”

Amy Bookbinder, a Northampton resident in attendance, said, “I feel like was he mistreated and there are tapes that disprove what the police are now saying happened.

“I’m opposed to what appears, to me, to be a violent, unnecessarily violent, scene, and I think his rights weren’t respected,” Bookbinder said.

“We’ve seen it before with the Jonas Correia case,” Bookinder said.

Correia was pepper sprayed and tackled by Northampton police in 2013 after a disturbance outside Tully O’Reilly’s Bar, according to an article by Masslive. Video footage of the incident has over 90,000 views on YouTube. Correia received a $52,500 settlement after the Civil Liberties Union launched a subsequent lawsuit against the City.

Elizabeth Humphrey, another Northampton resident at the court, asked, “How could I not be here after watching that video?”

“I saw it on Facebook, it was horrifying, and it’s a clear case of police brutality,” Humphrey said. “I have not had wonderful experiences with the Northampton Police in the past, and it was not me committing a crime, it was me reporting a crime, and I feel very unsafe when I see things like that. As a homeowner, and a taxpayer, I can’t allow this kind of thing to happen without being a witness at the very least, and supporting the victim in this situation.”

Humphrey also voiced concern over the proposed expansion of surveillance cameras in the town, contenting they are “laying the groundwork to empower police more.”

The Northampton Police Department have been contacted for a statement, but have not answered yet.

Glenn Houlihan can be reached at [email protected]

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