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State Attorney General again probing Saratoga Springs' targeting of local activists

Saratoga BLM organizer Lex Figuereo
WAMC file photo
Saratoga BLM organizer Lex Figuereo

The New York State Attorney General’s office is once again probing how the city of Saratoga Springs deals with local activists.

WAMC has learned the office of Democratic Attorney General Tish James wrote to the city Thursday to comply with a request for information about recent charges brought against Black Lives Matter organizer Lex Figuereo.

Figuereo appeared in court Thursday after being ticketed in May over his alleged role in organizing two recent rallies in the city. Figuereo was the only person charged by city police.

According to the documents obtained by WAMC, the latest communication from the attorney general comes four months after the release of a long-awaited report into past city officials’ interactions with BLM demonstrators of a two-year period. The attorney general’s office found the activists’ constitutional rights had been violated.

More than two years after WAMC broke the news of the initial investigation, the final report painted a portrait of intimidation and targeting of Black Lives Matter protestors by former city officials. It faulted former Mayor Meg Kelly, former Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, former Police Chief Shane Crooks and former Assistant Chief John Catone for retaliating against and violating the civil rights of Black Lives Matter protesters in 2020 and 2021. Dalton and Kelly repeatedly ordered Crooks to arrest protestors and expressed disdain for them in text messages laid out in the report.

In the latest communication, the attorney general’s office says it “is concerned that the City of Saratoga Springs has resumed its unconstitutional retaliation against protestors” and warns the city against further retaliation. 

The probe seeks further information from the city by July 8 and a proposed agreement of discontinuance. 

WAMC requested comment from city officials including current Mayor John Safford and Public Safety Commissioner Tim Coll, who swept into office in November pledging to restore order to city council meetings. In a statement Friday evening, Coll praised the "outstanding" Saratoga Springs Police Department, saying it is fully cooperating with the AG's office.

“Since the matter with the OAG is pending, and involves ongoing negotiations, I am constrained from responding further,” Coll said in the statement. “However, upon resolution, DPS will provide a complete accounting of the facts to the public.”

Calls to the city attorney were not answered Friday afternoon.

The cost of covering legal fees for the former officials continues to be debated among the current city council.

During a July 2021 protest when demonstrators marched on Broadway on the eve of the summer racing season, Dalton asked Crooks to “please, please, please, pretty please arrest someone.” Dalton promised a “ticker tape parade” if Figuereo and fellow activist Chandler Hickenbottom were arrested. Crooks responded by saying they were on his “list.”

The AG’s office says Crooks did not produce texts containing an arrest “list” with investigators, who testified that he may have deleted those messages because of their inappropriateness. The texts were eventually shared by Dalton.

The report also finds officials including Kelly did not "fully comply" with the probe. In one example, the report says Kelly submitted only 53 pages of relevant text messages to investigators, whereas Dalton turned over more than 37,000 pages. Kelly disputes that.

Investigators say Dalton in multiple instances demanded protestors be arrested without any offenses taking place, and as public safety commissioner used violent language when discussing protest organizers.

In its latest letter to current city leaders, the attorney general calls reports about the tickets to Figuereo in connection with “two non-violent protests” in May “troubling.” Figuereo was actually only at one of the protests in question.

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