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EXCLUSIVE: Northampton Police Tackle, Pepper-Spray 60 Year Old Woman

What started as a traffic stop for a broken headlight could now land the city in court.

[Content warning: The video of this arrest shows police using force against a civilian. The incident is also described in detail in the text of the article.]

NORTHAMPTON — It was close to midnight on April 4 when Holyoke resident Marisol Driouech pulled out of the McDonald’s parking lot on King Street. The 60-year-old had just picked up a delivery to make through an online food-ordering platform. But as she turned right, a Northampton police officer across the street noticed her headlight was out.

Less than five minutes later, the officer, John Sellew, was wrestling Driouech to the pavement. 

“Someone help me!” she screamed as Sellew pinned her down in the middle road and tried to handcuff her. “Give me your fucking arm!” Sellew yelled, unable to pull it from under her. A second officer, Jonathan Bartlett, arrived and pepper-sprayed her in the face before the two got her handcuffed and inside a cruiser. Only then did a Spanish-speaking officer arrive to speak with Driouech, whose first language is not English.

The Northampton Police Department’s new dash-cam system recorded the arrest on video, a redacted version of which The Shoestring obtained after filing a public records request. The video — which Driouech, through her lawyer, consented to The Shoestring publishing — offers a glimpse at how a police traffic stop can quickly turn violent.

The city is now facing a possible lawsuit over how police treated Driouech, who is now represented by local attorney Dana Goldblatt. Goldblatt, who also gave The Shoestring an unredacted copy of the video, said in an email that she intends to present claims to the city on behalf of Driouech.

“Whether there is a lawsuit ultimately depends on how the city responds to that presentment,” said Goldblatt, who is already suing the city on behalf of another person Northampton police pepper-sprayed in 2017, Eric Matlock.

Police charged Driouech with assault and battery on a police officer, attempting to disarm a police officer, resisting arrest and refusing to identify herself, in addition to the lights violation, according to court documents. In his arrest report, Sellew alleged she tried to roll up her window and put her car in drive during the traffic stop, then resisted arrest when Sellew ordered her to step out of her car and grabbed his baton as he tried to take her down.

However, the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office soon dismissed all of those criminal charges against Driouech. She did admit to the broken headlight charge in court. 

“After reviewing the evidence in the case, and consulting with the Police Department, the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office concluded that dismissal of the criminal charges, and a responsible finding with a fine on the civil motor vehicle violation, was in the best interests of justice,” a spokesperson for the DA’s office said in a statement to The Shoestring.

In the video the Northampton police released to The Shoestring, the department censored any audio that referred to the charges against Driouech.

The Northampton Police Department conducted an internal review of the arrest and determined that the officers’ use of force against Driouech was acceptable under department policies, according to a statement from Police Chief Jody Kasper. 

Kasper told The Shoestring that after a community member complained about the incident, the NPD hired Comprehensive Investigations and Consulting — a Massachusetts consulting firm run by former prosecutors and police officials — to further investigate the department’s actions. That investigation also found no wrongdoing.

“Officer Sellew’s and Officer Bartlett’s actions and the amount of force they used was reasonable and proportionate considering the totality of the circumstances that they faced that evening,” Kasper said the firm concluded. When asked how much the city had paid for the outside consulting firm to investigate the arrest of Driouech, Kasper said she didn’t know.

Sellew and Bartlett did not respond to emails requesting comment on this story.

Goldblatt said that the video is not indicative of “bad apples or extreme behavior,” but rather is an example of what Northampton police believe is “reasonable” behavior “if a 60-year-old woman might otherwise drive away with a broken headlight.”

“They keep telling us, and we should really start listening: this is what policing looks like in Northampton,” she said in a statement.


In the video — a shortened version of which The Shoestring has published above — Sellew is seen turning on his lights driving behind Driouech, who first pulls into the right lane before eventually pulling over to the side of the road. Sellew tells Driouech who he is and that their interaction is being video and audio recorded. Driouech, a Spanish speaker, responds: “What?” He tells her that her headlight was out and accuses her of refusing to stop for him.

“Excuse me? I come from the McDonald’s behind you for bring this, I don’t know where I going,” she tells Sellew, referring to her delivery order. When he asks her why she didn’t stop for him, she responds: “I don’t understand.”

Sellew then asks for her license and registration before beginning to raise his voice at Driouech, who wasn’t handing over the documents. When Driouech tells Sellew she didn’t know if he was stopping her, pointing out that she was now pulled over, Sellew’s voice grows louder demanding identification. “No me grites,” she responds in Spanish — “Don’t yell at me.”

Soon, Driouech tells Sellew to “call the police.” When Sellew says that he is the police, she responds, “No you’re not.” He then orders her out of the car, to which she says no. In his arrest report, Sellew alleged that Driouech rolled up her window, “attempted to end the stop herself” and reached “for the gear shifter on the center console as if to drive away.” The video then shows Sellew throwing open the door and, after yelling at her three more times to get out of the car, unlocking her seatbelt and grabbing her arm. 

“I am working, cabrón,” Driouech yelled at Sellew at one point during the ensuing struggle. “I don’t give a fuck,” he responded.

Sellew explained in his report that he pulled Driouech from the car and then attempted an “arm bar takedown” on her after she grabbed his police-issued baton out of its holster. He put her on her stomach, took the baton from her and pinned her with one arm behind her back. 

“The baton can cause serious bodily harm if struck in the head or neck,” he wrote. “I realized that with Marisol in possession of my baton I had the ability to utilize strikes or possibly lethal force. However, due to her size, I believed that I could subdue her using takedown techniques until additional units arrived.”

Sellew couldn’t get Driouech’s second arm from underneath her until Bartlett pulled up in his cruiser, yelled at Driouech to “stop resisting” and then pepper-sprayed her twice, the video shows.

Once in the back of Sellew’s cruiser, Driouech began speaking in Spanish to another officer who had just arrived on the scene. Driouech can be heard crying and pleading with officers to clean her face, which she said Sellew slammed into the street. She denied trying to put the car in drive and said that Sellew didn’t want to communicate with her and that he got aggressive, making her nervous. He then yanked her out of the car “like a doll,” she said.

“He’s a big man,” she said. “I’m only 5 feet, 120 pounds.”

Police took Driouech to the station, but then had an ambulance take her to the hospital for her injuries, according to the police report.

In several segments of the video, officers reach up to their microphones, at which point the audio goes silent. When asked about those moments, Kasper pointed to the department’s policy on video recording.

“During any event that is being recorded, officers may temporarily disable the audio recording to confer with each other about the call/stop,” the policy reads. “Once the conference is complete, officers shall turn the audio recording back on until the event has been completed. It shall be the officer’s responsibility to activate their audio pack every time they exit the cruiser on a motor vehicle stop.”


During the traffic stop, it took less than 90 seconds for Sellew to yell at Driouech before calling over his radio for backup. In a statement, Kasper explained that although she didn’t discipline Sellew, the department did re-train him on de-escalation and effective communications strategies. That included remedial defensive tactics training, as well as courses in “verbal judo” and “verbal de-escalation.”

“He could have and should have done a better job handling this matter,” Kasper said. “More effective communication skills, covered in the remedial training that he attended, may have reduced the intensity of the encounter.”

Kasper told The Shoestring that if officers are unable to communicate with someone because of a language difference, “they may call for an officer who speaks the primary language.” 

“We have bilingual officers within NPD, but if none are available we would seek translators from state or local police partners,” she said. 

An analysis by The Shoestring of the NPD’s use-of-force data from 2014 through 2020 — the most recent years available on the department’s open-data portal — found that out of 568 total use-of-force incidents, Black and Hispanic people were disproportionately the subjects of that force.

During those years, white people were on the receiving end of police force 74% of the time, Black people 13.5% and Hispanic people 10%. Northampton is 82.4% white, 2.7% Black and 7.4% Hispanic, according to census data.

In an email, Kasper said that out of all those incidents, subjects were armed 9.8% of the time, but that those encounters represent 60.7% of the times when officers displayed a less-lethal weapon or firearm.

“Out of the different levels of resistance that a subject may engage in, arming oneself with a weapon is more likely than any other action to result in an officer displaying or aiming a weapon at a subject,” Kasper said.

Kasper also said that a complicating factor when evaluating the data is that a single event with multiple people involved can skew the final numbers “dramatically.” As an example, she noted that five use-of-force reports from 2018 all came from the same event. Two officers pointed guns at two people in that event, but the data make it look as though four people had guns drawn on them.

“In 2018, NPD officers completed 12 use of force forms for people who identify as Black,” she said. “Some of those are the same people, and five of those events, or 41.6%, were all on this same call.”

However, Goldblatt said the data support what she has heard in the legal community and beyond about the police department’s reputation.

“The Northampton PD has a reputation for disproportionately stopping Black and brown people and it has a reputation for being disproportionately rough with them,” she said.

In addition to the lawsuit Matlock is currently bringing against Northampton, an Amherst man sued the city and five police officers last September. His lawyer has alleged that the officers tackled the man to the ground, kicked him, beat him with a baton, pepper-sprayed and arrested him during a mental-health episode in 2019.

UPDATE: This article has been edited to include Police Chief Jody Kasper’s comments about the Northampton Police Department’s use-of-force data.

Dusty Christensen is an independent investigative reporter based in western Massachusetts. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @dustyc123.

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