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Saratoga Springs City Council seeks attorney general probe of Mount incident

Saratoga Springs City Hall
Lucas Willard
/
WAMC
Saratoga Springs City Hall

The Saratoga Springs City Council is calling on Governor Kathy Hochul to authorize the State Attorney General to convene a grand jury to investigate a 2013 case that has driven city politics and the discussion surrounding police reform in the Spa City.

The Saratoga Springs city council, now controlled by four newly-sworn in Democrats, in January asked Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen to convene a grand jury to investigate the death of Darryl Mount Jr.

Mount died in May of 2014 of injuries sustained during a police foot chase nine months earlier. His name has become a rallying cry for racial justice advocates, and promises for an independent review into his death were made by the Democrats now sitting on the five-member council.

Heggen declined to bring the case before a grand jury. The Republican spoke with WAMC earlier this month.

“I find nothing of credible evidence to bring this matter as requested to a grand jury at this time,” she said.

Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino this week released his own report into the Mount case based on publicly available documents.

Montagnino’s report supports police claims that officers lost sight of Mount during the August 2013 chase, and that he was found unconscious at the base of a 20-foot wall and construction site. The report, however, also faults the city’s handling of the incident and insists that an internal affairs investigation into potential police misconduct should have been conducted.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, Montagnino acknowledged that some in the community may not accept the findings of his report, and characterized a grand jury investigation conducted in secret with immunized witnesses as the “best and last chance” to find answers from anyone who has not yet come forward.

Montagnino is a former court attorney. He explained his thinking to Saratoga Springs Commissioner of Finance Minita Sanghvi.

He explains that under state law, a grand jury investigation can be conducted in a non-criminal matter.

“So the intent is not to issue indictments, the way the grand jury ordinarily does its business, but rather, under these circumstances, to investigate the situation, to issue a report with factual findings and legal conclusions. And specifically, one of the things that the district attorney avoided – I will use that word – is that the criminal procedure law authorized the grand jury to issue recommendations for legislative, executive, or administrative changes for the future. And I think that will be extremely important because of this set of circumstances and the hope that this would never be repeated again,” said Montagnino.

“I agree with you completely and I think this is a good idea and I’m glad we are doing it,” said Sanghvi.

A civil case brought by Mount’s family against the city is set to begin in November. However, Brian Breedlove, attorney for the Mount family, told WAMC this month he has never requested a grand jury investigation.

“Certainly we have an expert’s report that’s been made public that indicates that it was impossible for him to have fallen off the scaffold. Their own expert, the medical examiner, has refuted his own testimony. 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.”

Among those speaking Tuesday was the former Commissioner of Public Safety, Chris Mathiesen. The Democrat who served at the time of the Mount incident defended the city’s handling of the case, its presenting of materials to the public, and the reputation of former city police chief Greg Veitch.

Addressing the council and Mayor Ron Kim, Mathiesen did not object to the council’s request to the governor’s office.

“Chief Veitch handled the case well. There is not requirement for an internal investigation when the only witness claiming police wrongdoing is conclusively shown to be lying. Chief Veitch is an honorable man and a well-respected former chief who does not deserve to be made a scapegoat by Commissioner Montagnino.”

“Your time’s up,” says Kim.

“And also,” adds Matheisen, “I hope that the council will vote in favor of Item #5 of the Public Safety Department’s agenda because I want my name cleared.”

It later emerged that Veitch lied to a reporter about having conducted an internal review of the Mount incident. Matheisen disputes that, claiming no one was intentionally misled.

The council also voted Tuesday to put into the record a citizens’ petition requesting an impartial investigation into the events surrounding Mount’s injury and resulting death.

The Attorney General’s Office is currently investigating the arrests of Blacks Lives Matter demonstrators and potential misuses of police power in Saratoga Springs

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