An Irvington Couple’s Troubling Encounter with Police

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by Barrett Seaman – 

When a midnight call from their daughter came, telling them that her car battery had died near the Irvington train station, Selwyn “Max” and Jill Bannister Maxwell were in bed watching a movie. Still, they drove down with a jumper cable and re-started her car. They then got back in their Infinity and headed towards the single exit from Bridge Street’s private lot. It was Mother’s Day, May 12.

At about the same time, Irvington Police Officer Arcangelo Liberatore, while on patrol, observed a “large group of cars”—at least six—clustered near the river. By his account, he entered the lot, his lights flashing, and reported hearing voices shouting “The cops, the cops!” as a group of some 20 teenagers scurried to unload bottles and cans, presumably alcohol, into the river. Liberatore, moving towards them on foot, ordered the teens to stay in place. Shortly thereafter, Officer Jessica Huth joined him driving a separate patrol car. Apparently fearing trouble, they called for back-up from both Dobbs Ferry and Tarrytown Police.

It was while he was approaching the youths on foot that Liberatore says he observed a gray Infinity “moving at a fast speed, attempting to leave the scene.”

It was also at that point when the two accounts—theirs and the Maxwells’—took separate narrative paths that have led to the filing of a Notice of Claim against the village and its police force, a legal prelude to a lawsuit. A special hearing is scheduled to take place October 2nd.

Clouding the incident is the vexing, nationwide issue of police and race: the Maxwells are a bi-racial couple; Selwyn “Max” Maxwell is black, while the two officers are white.

According to his official blotter report, Liberatore says he signaled with an open palm for the couple to stop. Instead, he says, they continued toward the exit.

The couple insists they were not speeding, saw no such hand signal and that the first communication came after Liberatore pulled his squad car, lights and siren activated, in front of theirs to block the exit.

Liberatore says he approached the car on the driver’s side and requested that the driver roll down his window, which the officer claims the driver refused to do—four times.

The couple claims that Maxwell did indeed roll down his window, voluntarily, and asked the officer “What did we do?” Maxwell claims he asked, “Why do you need to see my license?” He says he then presented his license. In his blotter report, Liberatore claimed that Maxwell refused to provide ID four times.

Jill Bannister described Liberatore as “very aggressive with Max,” thrusting his head inside the open window into the driver’s face. Bannister says she then got out on the passenger’s side and went around.” Still in her pajamas, she says she thought that when the officer saw they were a middle-aged couple (Max is 66, a retired hospital clerk; Jill is 52, still working as a home care nurse), he would calm down. “This is ridiculous,” Bannister said. “I am 52 years old. I’m in my PJs.”

Liberatore then cuffed Maxwell. According to Bannister, Officer Huth asked him, “What can I do?” Liberatore replied, “Cuff her.”

“My voice may have been elevated,” Bannister later admitted, “but I was never disrespectful.”

Maxwell was then placed in the back seat of squad car #706 while Bannister was held in car #705, driven by Officer Huth. They claim that they were held there for nearly 45 minutes, still in cuffs, before being taken to the station house, where they were placed in separate holding cells. Bannister says Officer Huth accused them of supplying alcohol to the teenagers, who were then being processed separately and released to their parents.

Before they were released, according to the couple, Liberatore handed Maxwell a summons for “failure to comply with a lawful order.” As he did so, says Maxwell, he said, “I’m doing you a favor.”

According to their attorney, Jonathan Gleit of Tarrytown, who often represents victims of police abuse in the Bronx, the summons Liberatore wrote was riddled with errors—including an inaccurate description of the car and license plate number. “My take is that [the officers] knew they had done wrong,” says Gleit. “They needed a cover so they issued this bogus summons they knew would be dismissed.” Later, a judge issued an “adjournment in contemplation of dismissal,” which Gleit says is tantamount to throwing the summons out.

Says Jill Bannister, “They made up this story and stuck with it.”

Gleit filed his Notice of Claim on July 31, more than two-and-a-half months after the incident took place. The Hudson Independent cannot corroborate either account beyond what is in the police record and what the Maxwells and their attorney have said in on-the-record interviews. The police were not equipped with body cameras, though Chief Michael Cerone has said he wishes his officers did have cameras. The village, including the police department, declined to comment due to pending litigation. “Our limited ability to comment would add little perspective to your story,” wrote Administrator Larry Schopfer.

As for race, there is no overt evidence of bias. In his blotter report, Officer Liberatore never mentions that Selwyn Maxwell was a person of color. Moreover, there is nothing in Liberatore’s record to suggest that he has racist tendencies. If he has any public reputation, it is for his barehanded rescue of a five-year-old girl from the jaws of a coyote in a Thornwood park last year. For that, he was awarded a medal by the Carnegie Hero Fund and his heroism reported as far away as Taiwan.

Selwyn Maxwell said he has never had a problem with Irvington police. He said he waves to them when he sees them and congratulated Officer Huth when she became the village’s first female officer. The couple has lived in Irvington for 18 years, raising Zoe, an honors graduate of Irvington High and a recruited soccer player at Brown University.

Attorney Gleit is not so quick to dismiss race as an element. “There is something called implicit racism,” he said. In this case, “It would be unreasonable to assume there was no implicit racism.” The couple’s Notice of Claim asks for unspecified monetary compensation for loss of liberty and violation of civil rights. They would also like an apology and a promise of more training. “You expect cops to behave like this in the Bronx,” said Gleit, “but in Irvington…?”

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