Did County Legislator Chris Allen flip out at a school teacher and yank the ID badge she was wearing so hard it caused a painful abrasion on her neck because she wouldn’t let him park at a Greene County swimming hole she and a group of students were tidying up?
Or did Allen arrive and inquire, in a calm and civil manner, why parking was forbidden, only to be screamed at by the irate teacher, who then disappeared and inflicted injuries upon herself in a spur-of-the-moment plan to torpedo Allen’s promising political career?
These two contrasting stories, both bizarre, are now a matter for the courts.
Allen, 46, a first-term legislator who represents the village, Barclay Heights and Malden, was arrested by State Police Friday, Sept. 25 and charged with third-degree assault, a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, following a weeklong investigation into the incident.
The arrest could have an impact on the Nov. 3 election. Allen had been riding high, basking in his successful primary day coup, in which the Democrat snatched the Republican and Independence party lines from opponent Angie Minew in a write-in campaign. While Minew and the leaders of those parties complained of having the nomination stolen by an unprincipled interloper, Democrats took notice of Allen’s unlikely achievement. If he could win cross-endorsements in Saugerties, what else was he capable of? Allen, too, openly talked about aspirations for higher office. Last week’s arrest could be a strange but minor bump for Allen, or it could be a premature end to a promising political career. Allen, not surprisingly, says it will be the former.
“I can say that if the truth were to come out, as it should — if I can get a fair shake in the criminal justice system — it will be obvious, the truth I’ve been telling,” he said.
Allen also stood by previous allegations he’s made that the incident was politically motivated, though he declined to be specific.
Allen took out an ad in Saugerties Times last week, reminding his supporters of his efforts to improve the community and saying that he would be “fully vindicated and absolved of all accusations.”
He said the incident will be a learning experience. The lesson? Don’t engage with crazy people. He says he should have just walked away.
Ritamary Montano-Vining heads the Hunter-Tannersville school district’s 8-12 Art Education Department. If her story is to be believed, it was Allen, not her, who went nuts that warm, late-summer day.
Montano-Vining has said she and a colleague, technology teacher George Bain, were supervising a community service clean-up session with seven students between the ages of 13 and 17 at a popular swimming hole off Rt. 23A in the town of Hunter when Allen pulled up and the confrontation began.
Allen, she said, was upset because a five-gallon paint container being used to cover graffiti on nearby concrete barriers was blocking his way.
Montano-Vining said Allen “screamed” at her to move the bucket. When she explained why she and the students were there, she said Allen shouted three times that he was a county legislator and that he could park there. When he demanded to see her identification, she said she leaned through the passenger side window and proffered her school district ID badge that was attached to a lanyard around her neck.
“He reached over the driver’s seat and said this was not an ID and yanked it to look at it, which yanked my head and pulled me into the car toward him.”
When Allen drove off, after angrily attempting to move the paint bucket, she left the scene to find a place with better cell phone reception and called police.
Bain, who said he didn’t see Allen pull the lanyard, described Allen as acting “very belligerently” throughout the confrontation. When Allen drove off and returned about 15 minutes later, Bain said some of the students were “absolutely terrified.”
Allen offered a vastly different scenario; it was Montano-Vining who acted belligerently. And it was Allen who was “taken aback” by her “loud and bombastic” behavior.
He said he asked to see her ID because there were no signs posted, the students were not wearing reflective vests “and there was no indication of who she was.”
When Montano-Vining showed him her school district badge, Allen said he “touched the ID at the bottom very gently for maybe half a second.”
Allen has alleged that the abrasion on the woman’s neck was self-induced after the confrontation.
Allen has also said the incident was politically motivated and that Montano-Vining was a Republican. Asked how her party affiliation explained the incident, Allen said, “There were two or three reasons for people to seize on the opportunity to go after me like this… I wish I could say more, but it would not be prudent” until after his court hearing.
Ulster County Democratic Party Chairman Frank Cardinale said this week Allen deserved his day in court and was innocent until proven guilty.
John Parete, chairman of the County Legislature, said, “We all have a bad day here and there. It looks like that’s what happened here. He has to get this resolved.”
Parete said that since the incident “doesn’t appear to be a capital offense,” Allen should not be asked to resign before the case is adjudicated.
County Republican Party Chairman Roger Rascoe did not return a telephone request for comment.
Opponent Angie Minew said she felt the “honorable thing to do would be to step down and submit a formal apology” to the teachers and students.
“I mean, he’s blaming everybody — the teachers, the kids for not wearing vests — everybody but himself.”
A hearing has yet to be scheduled in Town of Hunter Justice Court.
– Additional reporting by Will Dendis