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After Criticism Over Forceful Arrest, Northampton Mayor Defends Police

Northampton, Mass., police arrested Eric Matlock outside City Hall on Aug. 7, 2017.
Screenshot of Facebook video
Posted by Pamela Juda
Northampton, Mass., police arrested Eric Matlock outside City Hall on Aug. 7, 2017.

A video showing Northampton police arresting a man who allegedly blocked the entrance to City Hall doesn't portray the whole story, the city's mayor said.

The video, which was posted to Facebook, shows 33-year-old Eric Matlock clinging to a railing on the steps in front of the building, as two police officers attempt to pull him away. He spits, and appears to gasp for air.

The Daily Hampshire Gazette reported that officers pepper sprayed Matlock moments before the recording began.

But what's not seen in the video, which was recorded Monday, is the context of how the scene escalated, Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz said.

Matlock had previously blocked City Hall's front door, in protest, in July, Narkewicz said. That time police were able to persuade Matlock to move aside to allow people to enter and exit. He was less responsive on Monday.

"I believe the officers tried to communicate, and tried to discuss," Narkewicz said in an interview. "The individual, on this day, would not speak to them."

Officers tried to talk to Matlock for a "significant" amount of time before physically moving him, Narkewicz said.

In a statement, Rahsaan Hall, director of the Racial Justice Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts, said the arrest raises questions about how Northampton's police department treats peaceful demonstrators.

"Incidents like this underscore the need for greater transparency and accountability measures like body-worn cameras," Hall said in a statement.

Matlock's supporters organized a protest after his arrest, showing up to his arraignment at Northampton District Court on Tuesday, according to The Gazette.

Matlock was charged with assault and battery on a police officer, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, according to the court clerk's office. He is due back in court on Sept. 18 for a pretrial hearing.

While the video is disturbing, Narkewicz said, he knows that Police Chief Jody Kasper is committed to properly training and holding officers to account when it comes to using force.

"I hope that people will just look at this in the full context, and not immediately try to conflate it with other incidents where they may have been, in fact, police misconduct." Narkewicz said. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect first name for the mayor of Northampton.