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SPRINGFIELD — The attorney representing a Pittsfield family told jurors in U.S. District Court Monday that, "The Pittsfield Police Department trampled on their rights. They were beaten and they were wrongfully arrested," during an Aug. 14, 2008, incident.
Nancy Pelletier, representing five Pittsfield officers and a pair of workers from the state Department of Children and Families, said all involved were following a court order and it was the three members of the Simonetta family who escalated the situation.
The civil suit, filed by Joseph, Debra and Joline Simonetta, alleges that Sgt. Mark Lenihan and Officers Thomas Barber, Brett Wallace, Darren Cowell and Christopher Whitney, and DCF employees Halima Scipio and Lance LaPointe, violated their Constitutional rights, and that police assaulted them when they took custody of their minor granddaughter, identified in court only by the initials E.T.
According to John Swomley, representing the Simonetta family, DCF workers showed up at the elder Simonetta's home without a copy of the court order granting authority to remove the child. When the couple refused to turn the child over, police were called.
Swomley alleged that Lenihan told the couple they were taking their grandchild and it could be done "the easy way or the hard way."
Pelletier said in her opening statement that the DCF workers had a court order that was granted after concerns were raised about the child's home environment with her biological parents.
Pelletier said E.T.'s grandparents never had legal custody of the child and were only asked to keep her, "until further notice."
"Effectively, they were babysitters," she said.
Swomley described a scene of utter chaos, during which police kicked in the door of the home, had weapons drawn, sprayed Joseph Simonetta with pepper spray, delivered a series of "knee strikes" to Debra Simonetta, and assaulted Joline Simonetta while she was making a 911 call.
Pelletier said the Simonettas were interfering with a lawful and court-ordered removal of the child and they, "created the circumstances of chaos."
The family was arrested and charged with various crimes, including disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and assault and battery on a police officer.
Those charges were dismissed in January 2010, according to court records.
The suit alleges negligence, violation of Fourth Amendment rights, malicious prosecution and false arrest.
The case, being heard before Judge Mark G. Mastroianni, seeks unspecified damages for emotional distress, pain and suffering, legal and other expenses, punitive damages, court costs and other damages.
Testimony is expected to begin Tuesday.