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Saratoga Springs council to consider resolution condemning gag order

Text of the resolution that will be considered on Friday by the Saratoga Springs city council
City of Saratoga Springs
Text of the resolution that will be considered on Friday by the Saratoga Springs city council

The Saratoga Springs City Council will meet Friday afternoon to condemn a gag order issued by a judge that is preventing city officials from sharing details of an early-morning shootout on Broadway last month.

Around 3 a.m. on Sunday, November 20th, Saratoga Springs police a man on Broadway after he exchanged fire with another man following what officials described as an altercation downtown.

Within hours, the mayor and public safety commissioner held a press conference and released body and security camera footage of the incident that drew national attention. The officials also revealed the man shot by police was an off-duty sheriff’s deputy from Vermont.

No charges have yet been in filed in relation to the incident. Three people were injured, none fatally.

Three days after the press conference, a state judge granted a temporary restraining order following a request from Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen, preventing the officials from sharing more information on the case. The Republican DA warned city officials against releasing details before the press conference.

On Friday, the all-Democrat Saratoga Springs city council will consider a resolution to formally condemn “in the strongest terms” the temporary restraining order and Heggen.

Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino tells WAMC he has no regrets.

“The nature of the situation was such that it was important for the public to know what happened, at least in general terms, so they would understand that there was no misconduct on the part of city personnel. And I don’t want to say anything further than that because I don’t want to end up on the wrong side of the gag order,” said Montagnino.

Montagnino claims the DA’s decision to seek a gag order from the judge without informing the city is in violation of state law.

“When you’re looking for a temporary restraining order, you’re supposed to advise your adversary to give them the opportunity to appear to explain to the judge shouldn’t issue, and that was ignored,” said Montagnino.

The city council resolution also says the restraining order that precludes all public employees from speaking on the issue is a First Amendment violation.

Democratic Mayor Ron Kim agrees.

“Basically, this is prior restraint of speech, and probably the most fundamental speech that we have in this country – which is political speech – and we’re being told we can’t discuss issues of safety with our constituents,” said Kim.

Kim looks forward to the resolution’s consideration on Friday and potential future actions.

“We want a sense from the council to make a statement. We are also, of course, going to be challenging this in court. We haven’t determined yet if it’s an appeal to this judge or we’re going to go directly to the appellate division, we’re still weighing our options in that manner,” said Kim.

Reached by WAMC Thursday, District Attorney Heggen declined to comment, citing an active and ongoing investigation.

Meantime, the shooting has jumpstarted discussion on safety in Saratoga Springs. Montagnino and Kim met with a group of bar and restaurant owners Thursday to discuss safety and security downtown.

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