© 2022
1078x200-header-mic.png
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Montagnino: new report backs police narrative of 2013 Mount chase, but faults lack of review

Montagnino.jpg
Lucas Willard
/
WAMC
Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino (file photo)

Questions surrounding the death of Darryl Mount Jr. months after a police foot chase in the early morning hours of August 31st, 2013 in Saratoga Springs have energized Black Lives Matter activists and driven calls for police reform.

City Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino, a Democrat who was elected in November, campaigned on police accountability and for months has been compiling his own report on the Mount case.

It comes after Republican Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen declined to begin a grand jury investigation into the incident as requested by the city council.

Montagnino plans to formally introduce his report to the Saratoga Springs city council Tuesday night.

WAMC's Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief and Weekend Host Lucas Willard spoke with Montagnino on Sunday about his findings and why he chose to undertake the effort:

James Montagnino 

Well, I knew of the case from its inception, and knew of the questions that surrounded it. And certainly, the aftermath of the George Floyd killing brought it back to the fore. And so I started looking into things. And I discovered that a tremendous wealth of information was available publicly on the county clerk's website, because papers had been filed in connection with the civil lawsuit. And there's thousands of pages of material there, much of which consists of the sworn depositions of eyewitnesses to the events. And having read a lot in the blogosphere and having read a lot in the press, I saw that the whole story wasn't told. And there were some things that that were somewhat distorted. So I thought it worthwhile to try to compile what was available in the public domain and put it together for you know, in one document.

Lucas Willard 

I also want to mention that the city went through a process under the last Public Safety Commissioner to repost a lot of information that was initially released by the police department in the city in the immediate months and years after the Mount incident, and that was sort of re-uploaded and refreshed, and is available online for people to view. Now, your report, from what I gather, supports the claims by the city police in the mount case that there was no violence at the hands of officers on the night of August 31, 2013. That's correct?

James Montagnino 

That does seem to be the case. There are a number of eyewitnesses who are civilians who have no apparent connection to law enforcement and no apparent connection to the Mount family either who…three of them were workers that Gaffney’s who were working in the bar that night of the incident and had the back door open. They heard a thud and walked into the alley. And they came upon Mr. Mount unconscious at the base of the alley before any police officers were there on the scene. In addition, there was an individual who lived in an apartment with a window facing the alley. And he heard a sound that he described as…he was he was sleeping at the time. And he heard, he was awakened by a sound that sounded like somebody jumping onto the fire escape. And he looked out the window and he saw a police officer with a flashlight asking people in the alley if they had seen any one run by. They said no they hadn't. And then a second later one of them said hey, there's a guy down here on the ground. So there's a number of individuals who sort of tell a narrative that Mr. Mount was injured and unconscious before the arrival of officers there.

Lucas Willard 

And just to recap the events of that night, according to police, they said they pursued Mr. Mount after they observed him pushing his girlfriend into a wall on Caroline Street, a street busy with bars late at night in Saratoga Springs. He then ran and ran into a construction site and fell off of a scaffold, a 20 foot wall. And that police came to that conclusion because they lost sight of Mount during the foot chase and came around to the other side of the building where they found him on the ground.

Now, no internal affairs investigation into this case was ever conducted. There was a lot of pressure from the public to do so. And the city's former police chief Greg Veatch asserted that he did not believe there was reason to support an investigation into police misconduct because he didn't believe that there was any police misconduct. However, later, he admitted in court to misleading a reporter that an internal affairs investigation had been completed. What's your findings and your opinion on how the police department handled this issue in the aftermath of the incident?

James Montagnino 

Well, in place at the time, there was what was called General Order #25. And that order said that anytime a complaint was lodged that alleged either a violation of law or a violation of policy or regulation of a serious nature, that the police chief was mandated to appoint an independent officer as the internal affairs investigator. That wasn't done despite the fact that within hours of the incident Mr. Mount’s mother, from Albany Medical Center, called the police department to complain that it was it was her belief based upon a conversation that she had with an unidentified doctor that her son had been assaulted. And in addition, later on that same morning, that early morning, Mr. Mount’s girlfriend at the police station, when she learned that he was in the hospital, alleged that the cops had beaten him up. So that was enough information to constitute two separate complaints of serious misconduct. And so under General Order #25. An internal affairs officers should have been appointed and never was. And instead, then Chief Veitch took a position, clearly, in fact, he sent an email that was to be read at roll call that said anyone who claims to have information, suggesting that the police had beaten Mount that he was to take a statement from them. And the phrase he used was “knowing it to be false.” So he had already made his own decision as to what the facts were, and announced that pretty clearly, without an investigation.

Lucas Willard 

Recently, the Saratoga District Attorney, Karen Heggen, refused a request from the city council to bring forward, to bring the case to a grand jury investigation. And you told me just earlier this month that the city has the ability to request the state Attorney General to open a probe into the case. Is that something that you will be following through on?

James Montagnino 

Well, it's a little more complicated than that we will be following through on it. It's already on the, it's going to be on the agenda for Tuesday evening city council meeting, I will be proposing a resolution that would if passed, authorize the mayor to request the governor to issue an executive order that would authorize the Attorney General to do a grand jury investigation. See, the incident occurred in 2013. In 2015, then-Governor Cuomo issued an order that gave the Attorney General exclusive or… I'm sorry, gave the Attorney General original jurisdiction over any case involving the death of an unarmed civilian in a police encounter. But that wasn't retroactive. And so therefore, it would require a separate executive order for the Attorney General to be authorized to do that.

Lucas Willard 

The Darryl Mount case, at the time back in 2013, 2014, I was reporting in Saratoga Springs, and I recall, there being small protests and demands from the public for an independent investigation. And those calls grew louder and very much, so as you noted at the beginning of this interview, after the George Floyd killing in 2020. And Darryl Mount’s name has become a rallying cry for police reform, a rallying cry to establish a civilian police review board. This case has a lot of energy around it. How do you think your findings will be received by the public? Who wanted an answer on this? And maybe this isn't the answer, that there was no evidence to support police violence. How do you think that will be received by the public?

James Montagnino 

Well, my belief and my hope is that the majority of people will have the opportunity to read the report and draw their own conclusions based upon the quantum of evidence, as well as the quality of evidence that is readily available at this point. Though, I fully recognize that there will be people who have lost faith in the system, who may very well not accept it and continue to believe that there is there's a cloud that hasn't yet lifted. I know that there are versions of what happened that differ from the testimony of the witnesses, but those exists mostly as multiple hearsay that's just kind of floating around. There's nothing by way of anything that's under oath or even in writing that contradicts the overwhelming weight of the evidence that suggests there was no police misconduct, at least on the ground on August 13th, or 31st. I’m sorry.

Lucas Willard 

Yes. The civil case is still moving forward. I just wanted to note attorneys for the Mount family plan to have that case go to trial in November. And I think a lot of people are waiting to see, you know, what comes out in the trial in the civil case. Taking a step back in regards to how the police department communicates with the public, do you think that there have been improvements made in the years since 2013? You’re Public Safety Commissioner, is that one of your goals to improve communications between the police and the public? And do you think that a lot of this case, the Mount case, a lot of the discussion around it has resulted from a lack of conversation between the police and community?

James Montagnino 

Yeah. This is a problem that that we are trying to address. And certainly I think the creation of the civilian review board, which is which is moving forward at a nice pace, will help because it will provide an interface between the public and the police when there are complaints that are registered. But I'd like to see more of contact between civilians and the police in everyday life in Saratoga Springs. There are few if any police officers that are currently assigned to street patrol. There's relatively little contact between the uniformed officers in the public in, you know, in just on an everyday afternoon, walk down Broadway, for example. I’m trying to see that when the weather improves a bit, we're going to see a greater presence of uniformed officers on foot patrol and on Broadway interacting with the public and having some outreach there.

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