By Dusty Christensen
NORTHAMPTON — An Amherst man has sued the city of Northampton and five of its police officers, alleging that the police violated his civil rights when they arrested him in November 2019.
In the lawsuit, Jenison Retzlaff alleged that Northampton police officers Scott Gregory and Nicholas Limoges tackled him to the ground, kicked him, beat him with a baton, sprayed him with pepper spray and arrested him. Retzlaff alleged that he was in the Meadows section of Northampton when somebody called police to say he looked “kind of out of it.” The Fire Department and EMTs determined he didn’t need medical assistance, according to the lawsuit, but then police showed up and arrested him after he said he wanted to leave and tried to get his ID back from the officers.
The lawsuit was filed in September 2022.
“What we see in way too many of these cases is that police simply don’t know how to deal with people having mental health issues,” Retzlaff’s attorney, Michael Heineman, said in a phone interview Monday.
Reached via email, Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper declined to comment on pending litigation. Efforts to reach Gregory and another officer named in the suit, Paul Barry, were unsuccessful on Thursday. Limoges, who now works at the Greenfield Police Department, did not respond to an email requesting comment, nor did two other Northampton officers named as defendants: Josef Barszcz and Michael Cronin.
A spokesperson for Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra’s office said that she would not comment on ongoing legal cases.
In a letter sent to City Hall in 2021, Retzlaff’s attorneys said that despite medical responders leaving Retzlaff alone after interacting with him, police arrived and asked for identification. When Retzlaff stood up and asked for his ID back, the letter alleges that an officer told him to sit back down and then pushed him back, after which police alleged that he used his hand to “strike” that officer’s hand away.
“At this point both officers grabbed onto Mr. Retzlaff’s arms and Mr. Retzlaff ended up on the ground,” the letter alleges, going on to claim that the officers rolled Retzlaff onto his chest. “Officers claim Mr. Retzlaff was uncooperative while two officers kneeled on his body, holding him down. While Mr. Retzlaff lie face-down on the ground the officers administered knee strikes, used a baton on Mr. Retzlaff, and blasted ‘O.C.’ spray in Mr. Retzlaff’s face.”
Retzlaff’s lawsuit goes on to say that when he arrived at the police station, Retzlaff verbally taunted police officers. The lawsuit alleges that Barszcz, Barry and Cronin responded to those taunts with “excessive force” and verbal taunts of their own.
“He’s clearly having issues and these officers are just taunting him and goading him,” Heineman told The Shoestring.
Ultimately, the lawsuit says that police brought charges of disorderly conduct, assault and battery on a police officer, and resisting arrest against Retzlaff. Those charges, however, were dropped in June 2020, the lawsuit says.
Internal NPD records show that both Cronin and Gregory have faced internal discipline in the past.
In 2018, Cronin ran a red light, hit another car and “fled the scene,” according to the department’s investigation of the incident. He later returned to the scene, was arrested for drunken driving and pleaded guilty to the charge.
In 2017, the police department suspended Gregory after he drove 70 mph through a densely populated area where the speed limit was 30 mph, according to internal affairs records. He was responding to a report of breaking and entering, and reportedly ran through stop signs and crosswalks, reaching 98 mph on a 40 mph road before crashing into another car.
In a response to the lawsuit filed in federal court, the city of Northampton denied many of Retzlaff’s claims. Retzlaff has requested a jury trial in the case.
Dusty Christensen is an independent investigative reporter based in western Massachusetts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dustyc123.
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