DA Heggen: no grand jury in 2013 Darryl Mount incident
The Saratoga County District Attorney will not bring the case of a man who died months after an August 2013 police foot chase in Saratoga Springs to a grand jury.
In January, after four new Democrats joined the five-member Saratoga Springs city council, Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen was asked to open a grand jury investigation into the events surrounding the death of Darryl Mount, Jr.
Mount, a biracial man, died in May 2014 after a police foot chase in the early morning hours of August 31st, 2013. Police said they observed Mount shove his girlfriend against a wall before he took off on foot. Mount was described by police as running into an alley and construction site when police lost sight of him. Police said he was found moments later at the base of a scaffold severely injured. Mount’s family has claimed police brutality and is pursuing a wrongful death suit against the city.
Questions swirled for years as the city remained tight-lipped on the case, and former Police Chief Greg Veitch, who retired in 2019, admitted in court testimony that he lied to a reporter by saying an internal investigation into potential police misconduct had been conducted. No such investigation had occurred.
In the racial justice movement sparked by the death of George Floyd, Mount’s name became a rallying cry for police reform in Saratoga Springs.
Newly elected Democratic Mayor Ron Kim wrote to Heggen On January 11th asking for a grand jury investigation, fulfilling a campaign promise.
Heggen responded in a four-page letter released Thursday. The Republican DA, who is running for re-election, spoke with WAMC soon after.
“I’m ethically bound to exercise my discretion and responsibility as the Saratoga County District Attorney to present cases to a grand jury only in those instances where I have a good-faith belief that either a crime has been committed or a current public servant has engaged in misconduct, nonfeasance, or neglect,” said Heggen. “My thorough review of all of the information which is publicly available as a result of the proceedings in the civil action brought by the Mount family against the City of Saratoga Springs, as well as the information collected and posted on the internet by the police concerning the incident that occurred in August 2013, displays not even a modicum of probable cause to present this case to a grand jury, and therefore that is my duty and responsibility to ensure that only those appropriate cases are presented to them.”
In addition to asserting that none of the evidence related to the night of the police foot chase pointed to police wrongdoing, Heggen said evidence would have supported charges against Mount, who fled from officers after he allegedly pushed his girlfriend’s head into a wall.
In the matter regarding courtroom testimony by the former police chief, Heggen wrote that it would have been “improper” for a grand jury to consider allegations against Veitch as a basis for recommendation of removal or disciplinary action as he is no longer serving as a public official.
Mayor Kim spoke with WAMC about Heggen’s letter.
“It’s disappointing but it wasn’t surprising. I mean, if you read her letter, it seems to convict a deceased person without an investigation and also exonerate others without an investigation. And she may be correct, but she didn’t do the investigation to reach that point and that’s what the American justice system is all about,” said Kim.
On the campaign trail, Kim demanded Heggen “do her job” in convening a grand jury to investigate the Mount case. On Thursday, Kim said Heggen should be seeking an investigation, “not excuses not to do it.”
“It’s disappointing that she’s not using her office to heal a community. Because, in the end, that’s what will happen here. It will heal a community over a very difficult issue that we’ve faced,” said Kim.
WAMC asked Heggen about Kim’s sentiments.
“For the mayor to say that I’m not doing by job, my question back is, ‘What information are you contending that does exist that would form the basis for me to engage a grand jury in either a criminal investigation or a non-criminal investigation?’ Because right now, I’ve reached out, I’ve taken these last three weeks since I’ve received the letter from the city council to gather all of the information that I was able to and review it. And I find nothing in foundation or basis to present this case to a grand jury,” said Heggen.
New Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino says he wants the New York State Attorney General’s office to pursue an investigation.
A 2015 executive order under then-Governor Andrew Cuomo gave powers to the AG’s office to investigate deaths resulting from police interactions. The order, however, is not retroactive. Montagnino says an investigation could be possible if ordered by the governor.
“There are one or two more additional steps I want to make sure, at least for myself, that I’ve done everything in my power to have as much accomplished as possible,” said Montagnino. “And it is possible for the governor to issue an executive order empowering the Attorney General to do the grand jury investigation.”
Montagnino campaigned on the promise that he would release his own report using publicly available documents on the circumstances surrounding Mount’s injury and resulting death. Last month, Montagnino announced that he had to delay the report, in part due to his hospitalization for COVID-19 in December.
WAMC asked the Democrat about his plans to release the report, which Heggen also referenced in her letter.
“Ah, yes, in fact I have a first draft written,” answered Montagnino. “I’m going to be doing significant editing of that over the weekend, and I anticipate end of next week sometime releasing the report.”
Speaking with WAMC Friday, Mount family attorney Brian Breedlove said he had not requested a grand jury investigation, primarily because he doesn’t believe a local prosecutor should be pursuing such a query into a local police department.
Breedlove said he had not read Heggen’s letter, and added he’s focused on the civil trial set to begin in November.
“Certainly, we have an expert’s report that’s been made public that indicates that it was impossible for [Mount] to have fallen off the scaffold. Their own expert, the medical examiner, has refuted his own testimony," said Breedlove. "And the only source of information or the local prosecutor is the police themselves. And within 36 hours of this incident, the chief of police – whose credibility has been destroyed, quite frankly – is sending a message out to the District Attorney’s office saying, essentially, ‘there is nothing to see here.’ And so there has been no independence in taking a look at this thing. But that’s why we brought a civil case. And we’re going to pursue the civil case, and we’ll let the jury decide in that case.”