Letter from Dunnellon — From the June 2014 issue

Our Common Trouble

In search of justice and forgiveness in Florida

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Dwight Maxwell, a self-employed roofer and handyman, was arrested around dusk on September 7, 2012, in the parking lot of a mostly abandoned shopping center in Dunnellon, a small city in north central Florida. He had ignored a police cruiser at the side of the road ahead of him and nearly driven his black Dodge pickup into Officer Adam Robinson, who was training with the Dunnellon Police Department and involved at the time in a routine stop for a burned-out headlight. Robinson and his supervisor, Sergeant Jacob Gonzalez, pursued Maxwell for about a quarter mile down U.S. 41, the city’s main thoroughfare, before he made his way into Dunnellon Plaza.

Maxwell was asked to step out of the truck, and he complied. He is black, about six feet tall and 235 pounds, and that night he wasn’t wearing a shirt. He was told to remove his hat, and Robinson searched his work boots, because boots are a good place to hide knives and dope. In his socks and camouflage shorts, Maxwell failed a series of field sobriety tests. At one point, Gonzalez shined a light into his face and noted an absence of nose hairs, an indication that he’d snorted something irritative.

Illustration by Danijel Žeželj

Illustration by Danijel Žeželj

Through a window on the passenger side of the Dodge, Robinson saw a beer can behind the driver’s seat. It had been crumpled and perforated for use as a pipe but showed no signs of burns. The officers found a rock of crack cocaine near the can and two hydrocodone tablets wrapped in paper towel under a dashboard mat made of short-pile synthetic turf. The passenger seat was filled with styrofoam trays and an aluminum warming pan. It was determined that Maxwell was under the influence of alcohol or drugs or both. He was handcuffed and moved to the back of the patrol car. Members of Maxwell’s family eventually came to recover some tools in the truck’s bed. Those tools would be needed the next day, and there was no telling what might become of Maxwell. Closed-circuit video from the Marion County Jail shows him a couple of hours later, seated in a blue folding chair against a white cinder-block wall. Still shirtless, he seems to be singing quietly to himself. At one point he leans forward and says to no one, “Hell, I’ve been drunk all my life, so I ain’t worried about it.”

Maxwell was charged with two felony counts of drug possession and two misdemeanors, driving under the influence and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was arraigned on October 9 at the Marion County Courthouse in Ocala. In court that day, sitting tight-lipped next to his wife, Luevenia, he didn’t seem to notice me seated on the other side of the room and back a few rows. Another court date was scheduled, for January. I’d book a ticket from New York City. This time, my mother would ask to join me in the courtroom.

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is the editor of Gesturing Toward Reality: David Foster Wallace and Philosophy, out this month from Bloomsbury. He lives in New York City.

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  • Jared Simpson

    What was it that Korb expected of/wanted from Maxwell? Of the two, Maxwell, his many shortcomings notwithstanding, seems the more rational of the two: He knows nothing is to be gained by these awkward encounters forced on him by Korb, who appears to believe that his own unhealed grief can be assuaged if only Maxwell would somehow cooperate.
    And I can’t help but imagine what would happen to poor, black Maxwell if he were to follow white, middle-classed Korb around NYC after being asked, politely and unequivocally, to stop.

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