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Saratoga Springs requests grand jury investigation into Mount death

The Saratoga Springs City Council met on January 4th
City of Saratoga Springs
Image capture by WAMC
The Saratoga Springs City Council met on January 4th

The Saratoga Springs City Council held its first regular meeting this week, with four new members on the five-member body.

New Democratic Mayor Ron Kim opened Tuesday’s meeting with a request to the public.

Seeking to set a new tone in a council chamber home to shouting from members of the public and verbal sparring between councilors, Kim asked the audience for the two things during public comment periods moving forward: to be kind and to be factual.

“We’re a community," the mayor said. "And we’re also humans, and you’re humans. So, sort, getting into a lot bickering and fighting, we’d prefer you not to do that. But it’s your time…”

Kim also announced that each meeting will conclude with a question period, where attendees can register to ask specific questions of city councilors.

The first to comment during the first meeting of the year was resident Norah Brennan.

“The words are nice, the actions are going to be better. And that also ties into your ask for people to be kind and people to be respectful, because a lot of the activity that came about last year – a lot of this question of respect that is somehow some marker of what we’re supposed to be doing – was being countermanded by people being treated unequally,” said Brennan.

Lexis Figuereo, a leader of Saratoga Black Lives Matter who was arrested on warrant charges stemming from a July protest and disrupting city council meetings, asked the city council to be partners with the organization, which has been at the front of the demands for racial justice in the Spa City. Figuereo and other Saratoga BLM activists assisted the slate of Democrats who were successful in winning four seats in November.

“I heard some talks about, you know, COVID testings being needed to be distributed, we would love to be a part of that, well as Narcan trainings and things like that. So we want to be more of a part of what the city is doing than speaking from this side, so that’s what we’d like to see,” said Figuereo.

Figuereo’s request comes as the New York State Attorney General’s Office is investigating the arrests of BLM activists and other potential abuses of police power.

With racial justice at the forefront of the Democrats’ campaign agendas, new Public Safety Commissioner Jim Montagnino introduced a measure Tuesday night asking the Saratoga County District Attorney’s Office to convene a grand jury investigation into the events leading to death of Darryl Mount Jr. in 2014.

Mount was a biracial man who died months after sustaining serious injuries during a police foot chase in August 2013. The city is defending itself in a wrongful death suit from Mount’s family, but has not undertaken an independent investigation into potential police wrongdoing.

Montagnino explained his request of the DA’s office.

“The grand jury has the power to compel the production of witnesses, to compel the production of documents. The district attorney is the only person capable of doing this under New York law because Darryl Mount…the incident that ultimately led to Darryl Mount’s death occurred in 2013. In 2015, New York law was amended initially by a [sic] Executive Order and subsequently by legislation that would empower the Attorney General to have original jurisdiction over investigations in which unarmed citizens died in police custody. However, that legislation, that executive order is no retroactive,” said Montagnino.

Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen said Thursday her office had not yet received the request from the Saratoga Springs City Council.

Montagnino had promised to deliver a day-one report on his own investigation in the Mount case through documents already publicly available. But the Democrat issued an apology Tuesday night, saying he couldn’t complete the report due to illness. Montagnino was hospitalized with COVID-19 for nine days in December.

“I must apologize because of the impact that COVID has had on me over the last couple of weeks that is delayed. It’s my intention that no later than mid-February I will have an oral presentation,” said Montagnino.

Montagnino also set a public hearing for February 1st on the creation of a civilian review board to foster communication between the public and city police department, a key recommendation of the city’s Police Reform Task Force in 2021.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.