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Fleisher Art Memorial’s executive director resigns months after assault arrest in New York

Elizabeth Grimaldi has stepped down from her post at Fleisher, a nonprofit community art school. Her husband, Michael, an artist and teacher, was also charged with firearms offenses.

Michael and Liz Grimaldi at the INLIQUID VIP v.13 Preview Party in 2013.
Michael and Liz Grimaldi at the INLIQUID VIP v.13 Preview Party in 2013.Read moreAl For

Late on a Friday night in January, sheriff’s deputies in Columbia County, N.Y., responded to a reported altercation at a home in the rural town of Hillsdale, near the state’s border with Massachusetts.

They ended up arresting a married couple — the director of a venerable Philadelphia art school and a well-known artist who teaches at the New York Academy of Art — on a slew of charges after an apparent domestic incident and expletive-laden standoff with police.

The woman was charged with head-butting her husband, shoving a child into him, punching a sheriff’s deputy, and ripping the wires out of the camera in a police car, according to court records in New York state. Her husband was charged with possession of illegal guns, including one with a silencer.

The incident didn’t garner any major media coverage. But Lt. John Rivero of the sheriff’s office in Columbia County recalled it as a “big ordeal.”

“It was quite a bit of craziness,” Rivero said by phone.

Nearly eight months later, the alleged events of that night appear to be having repercussions in the Philadelphia arts community.

Elizabeth Grimaldi, the woman who was arrested, has quietly resigned from her position as executive director of the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial, a position she held since 2013.

Founded in 1898, Fleisher is a South Philadelphia-based community art school that runs workshops, exhibitions, and tuition-free classes. Its board includes top officials at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and other notable Philadelphians.

In a statement to The Inquirer, Mark Goodheart, the chairman of Fleisher’s board, confirmed Grimaldi’s resignation, which took effect Friday. Donors were informed Tuesday.

“The Board is deeply grateful to Liz for her significant contributions throughout her eight-year tenure with the organization,” Goodheart said. “We believe her passion for making art accessible to everyone, regardless of economic means, background, or artistic experience, has helped establish Fleisher as a leader in making art available to everyone.”

Goodheart’s statement did not mention the January arrest of Grimaldi and her husband, Michael, an accomplished artist and director of drawing at the New York Academy of Art. Michael Grimaldi has also taught artistic anatomy at Drexel University’s College of Medicine. In recent weeks, his curriculum vitae and other sections from his personal website appear to have been scrubbed.

The arrests were reported over the winter by a couple of small websites in the Hudson Valley, and with few details. There was no coverage in Philadelphia or New York City. In a statement Tuesday, Elizabeth Grimaldi said charges have been dropped, but that could not be independently verified with the court.

Grimaldi’s attorney, Michael Howard, later said in an email Tuesday that the case was “resolved” in mid-August, and Grimaldi was expected to pay a “modest fine” to a noncriminal violation. He did not provide details.

Court records describe a chaotic scene after Elizabeth Grimaldi’s 911 call around 11:15 p.m. on Jan. 22.

According to the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, Grimaldi had blood on her head and said her husband had put a gun in her mouth. But she was “highly uncooperative” and “belligerent” when deputies arrived, they said.

“Don’t f—ing talk to me like a f—ing imbecile,” she allegedly told two deputies who were trying to neutralize the situation, according to court records.

They were unsuccessful in doing that.

According to the criminal filing, Grimaldi later struck a sheriff’s deputy in the face “with a closed, right-handed fist,” and pulled audio wires out of a patrol car. In the car, she continued to “thrash around,” it stated.

“She went ballistic,” said Rivero, the lieutenant in the sheriff’s office.

Some of the incident was captured on dashcam video. She told police she had been drinking, according to court records.

Grimaldi was charged with several misdemeanors, including assault, endangering the welfare of a child, harassment, and criminal mischief. Sheriff’s deputies said she “intentionally” head-butted Michael Grimaldi in the face and struck him with her hands, and shoved a child into his arms, causing the child’s head to slam into his face, among other criminal allegations in the court filings.

After entering the house, deputies recovered what they described as an “unregistered handgun” and Michael Grimaldi was initially charged with criminal possession of a firearm, a felony.

About a week later, authorities filed a second round of charges against him, including criminal possession of a gun silencer and possession of three or more illegal weapons.

The current status of the charges against the Grimaldis was unclear Tuesday.

The Columbia County District Attorney’s Office has not responded to phone calls and emails over several weeks. As of early August the court clerk for the local judge in Hillsdale said by email that both cases were “still ongoing.” Court officials did not respond to three subsequent requests for an update.

In her Tuesday statement, Grimaldi said the arrest and her resignation from Fleisher are “two unrelated issues,” but she declined to comment on the resignation because she said it hasn’t been finalized. Regarding the arrest, Grimaldi said that “the case is firmly behind me.”

“What I’m happy to say is that Fleisher is a Philadelphia treasure, and it has been a privilege working with its exceptional faculty and staff,” Grimaldi said. “I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished over eight years, and to conclude this tenure with the meaningful role of delivering art supplies and lessons to over 10,000 children across the city is a memorable highlight. I will champion its continued success.

“Right now, my priority is the health and emotional well-being of my children, who have astonished me with their resilience through an unimaginable year of isolation, online school, moving, and divorce,” she said. “It has been emotionally draining to dissolve a marriage while quarantined together and one extremely difficult evening, I called the police for help.”

Fleisher officials declined to comment on Grimaldi’s resignation outside of the board’s statement. Prior to taking over at Fleisher, Grimaldi, 40, had been the executive director of the Village of Arts and Humanities in North Philadelphia.

Rebecca O’Leary, an art consultant and vice president of Fleisher’s board, has been serving as acting executive director and will remain in that position until a permanent replacement is named.

Michael Grimaldi, 50, could not be reached for comment. The “contact” section of his website has been removed.