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Documents reveal police preparations ahead of July march in Saratoga Springs

Officers in riot gear arrested five protesters in Saratoga Springs
Photo courtesy Patrick Dodson
Albany Proper
Officers in riot gear arrested five protesters in Saratoga Springs on July 14th

Newly revealed documents detail the Saratoga Springs Police Department’s preparations for a July 14th protest that snarled traffic downtown. Five demonstrators were arrested that evening and several others weeks later.

WAMC obtained police department documents Thursday detailing the SSPD’s preparations for the protest. The “Take Back the Narrative” march organized by Saratoga Black Lives Matter was intended to counter remarks made by the city’s former Assistant Police Chief John Catone in late June.

The partially-redacted documents show police planned for potential violence from activists affiliated with the All of Us community action group, and that “previous events locally have involved protesters with body armor, edged weapons, clubs and other blunt objects, and canisters of bear spray.”

All of Us supporters been involved in protests throughout the Capital Region, including the occupation of Arch Street outside of Albany’s South Station.

The document prepared by SSPD ahead of the protest says the number of people involved and purpose of decrying police brutality “presents a challenge to the officers working the detail, and it also presents a potential public risk to the community.”

Details of the SSPD’s response plan were first reported by the Times Union on Thursdsay.

In an email Wednesday, Saratoga Springs Police Chief Shane Crooks confirmed to WAMC that plainclothes officers were present at the protest.

Crooks wrote:

“The Saratoga Springs Police Department did not have undercover officers participate in the protest. We did have plain clothes officers referred to as ‘undercover’ observe from a distance. This was done so that we did not interfere with the protest event and to provide us with advance notice when the protestors were on the move and taking to the streets. As you are aware when protestors or anyone decide to take to the streets and walk into oncoming traffic it is not only unlawful but creates a safety risk for all involved. The advance notice allowed us to stop traffic in the area in a timely manner and help to reduce that risk.”

Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino, who took office this month, is a Democrat.

“My understanding was that there were a number of officers in plainclothes who were observing the protest not from a great distance, but certainly not from the center of the gathering, either,” said Montagnino.

Arrests were made that night made following warnings given to demonstrators from the rear of the march. A one-page dispersal order obtained by WAMC shows three warnings given between 8:26 and 8:36 p.m., confirmed by a “NYS UC assets.”

New York State Police as well as sheriff’s deputies have assisted Saratoga Springs police during large demonstrations.

Mark Mishler, an attorney for Saratoga BLM organizer Lexis Figuereo, contends the document confirms the presence of undercover officers.

“There were in fact undercover police officers and/or people working with the police who were in close proximity to the people legitimately engaged in First Amendment-protected protest activity on July 14th.”

Mishler says the documents show the Saratoga Springs Police Department do not care about the rights of the activists in question.

“I think it says that they, really, they do not consider the people who are engaged in these First Amendment-protected protest activities on issues of public concern to be worthy of protection, to have their rights protected in the way that every person in this country is, in fact, worthy of,” said Mishler.

Figuereo was arrested by deputies on a warrant several weeks after the protest on September 7th. He faces a charge of disorderly conduct and was also charged with obstructing government administration related to disrupting two Saratoga Springs city council meetings in July.

Figuereo says Saratoga BLM’s protests have been peaceful.

“We’ve had a movement going on here since June 7th, 2020. Not one incident at all,” said Figuereo.

In addition to Saratoga Springs, Figuereo has also been charged in connection with the Arch Street occupation in Albany last spring, when protestors set up an encampment outside the police station and were forcibly removed days later.

A photo of Figuereo, as well as his sister Chandler Hickenbottom, who was also charged after the July 14th protest, appeared in SSPD’s planning documents.

“We want to know how much this stuff costs the community members and how much they’re actually paying for people to be able to exercise their rights,” said Figuereo.

Police Chief Shane Crooks said the arrests surrounding the July 14th event were made “based off the facts surrounding the incident,” adding the city police department “respects and recognizes rights to peacefully and lawfully protest.”

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