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Heggen, Montagnino at odds over SSPD's handling of alleged beating

A statement provided by Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen on Tuesday, March 5th, 2022.
A statement provided by Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen on Tuesday, March 5th, 2022.

The Saratoga County District Attorney is criticizing the Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner after the Commissioner said he wanted to discipline a city officer who declined to press charges against three white teenagers accused of badly beating a Black fellow student in February.

As first reported by the Times Union on Monday, Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino, elected in November, wants to punish a city police officer after the senior commander declined to press charges related to February’s incident.

A 17-year-old Black student, who has not been identified, reportedly suffered a brain injury after he was allegedly beaten by three fellow students, all of whom are white, at a house party.

According to Montagnino’s account published in the newspaper, the officer did not bring charges against the teens, because the victim shoved the attacker first and that student is reportedly “prone to concussions.”

The next day, Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen criticized Montagnino.

The Republican, who is running for a third term, said the Democratic Commissioner “inserted himself into an active police investigation….and then turned to the media to publicize his premature and inaccurate take on the situation.”

The DA says Montagnino subjected everyone involved in the case to “spin, speculation and ridicule” because the family of the victim decided not to press charges. She goes onto say, in part, of Montagnino:

“He chose to bring the case to the court of public opinion, not a court of law. In doing so, he exposed those involved to inappropriate scrutiny and a shined a spotlight of social media commentary upon a purported victim. Those actions fly in the face of the concept that justice should be blind so that justice is delivered in a fair and unbiased manner.”

Montagnino, a former court attorney with the New York Unified Court System, responded to Heggen’s statement on Wednesday:

“The District Attorney said that I inserted myself into an active police investigation. I'm reading from her statement. The fact is that that case was officially closed on March 1st, long before I had any involvement in it. And the fact that it was closed on March 1st was documented with the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, which has on file the incident report submitted by the Saratoga Springs Police Department, which says on its first page, status: closed. Status date: 3-1-2022. So Ms. Heggen is grossly misinformed when she contends that this case was open. At the time I began looking into it. I was contacted by the family of the victim through Tara Gaston, who is a county supervisor, when the family called her as well as the mayor's office lamenting the fact that the case had been closed without an arrest, despite the fact that the young man involved was seriously injured.”

Reached by WAMC, Heggen declined to provide further detail, but responded to Montagnino briefly.

“It’s not correct.”

This is not the first time this year Montagnino and Heggen have had a public disagreement.

City Democrats who won office in November pledging police accountability — including Montagnino —had called on Heggen to investigate the events that led to the death of Darryl Mount Jr. Mount, a biracial man, died nine months after being injured during an August 2013 police foot chase.

In February, Heggen declined to begin a grand jury investigation into the incident as requested by the city council.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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  • Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen says she will not bring an investigation into the death of Darryl Mount Jr. in Saratoga Springs in 2014 — months after a foot chase with city police — as requested by new city mayor Ron Kim. Kim, a Democrat, made transparency around the 2013 incident a hallmark of his campaign.