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Saratoga Springs activists react to AG report

Aaron Shellow-Lavine
BLM leaders on the steps of Saratoga Springs city hall

Saratoga Springs activists are reacting to a new report from the state attorney general that finds Black Lives Matter demonstrators’ civil rights were violated by city leadership and police.

Following two years of anticipation, the New York Attorney General’s office released its report on the intimidation and surveillance of Black Lives Matter members by city leaders on Wednesday.

The 28-page report places blame at the feet of former Mayor Meg Kelly, former Commissioner of Public Safety Robin Dalton, and ex-city police leaders for implementing “an unconstitutional official policy of retaliating against BLM protestors based on their speech.”

Messages between Kelly, Dalton, and then-Police Chief Shane Crooks featured in the report show that the officials repeatedly called for the arrest of BLM protestors without cause.

Mayor John Safford, a Republican elected in November, says the city is taking the report and its recommendations seriously. In a statement Wednesday, Safford said “city officials are now reviewing the report, learning from its content, and proceeding with the development and implementation of policies, procedures and practices to address the recommendations made by the Attorney General’s Office.”

The report makes multiple recommendations including barring officials from ordering the investigation or arrest of specific individuals, as well as requiring the SSPD to maintain all documentation between the department and city officials, and preventing the department from surveilling protestors.

Mark Mishler, the attorney for multiple Saratoga BLM members, says the report’s findings are significant.

“People had to go through court proceedings, people had to go through humiliating searches of their vehicles and so forth all because the City of Saratoga Springs’ administration, police department did not like that there were people who were criticizing them for the history of how Black people have been treated in Saratoga Springs,” said Mishler.

At a press conference Thursday, BLM organizer Alexus Brown said the report’s release does not mean their work is done.

“The hope that accompanies the release of this report is tempered by the disheartening reality of ongoing patterns of misconduct and impunity within the Saratoga Springs Police Department. Tim Coll’s deliberate attempt to control the narrative and downplay the severity of the findings underscores a broader pattern and lack of accountability that plagues the Saratoga Springs’ government. However, despite the intimidation and persecution faced by community organizers, Saratoga BLM’s resilience and determination remains unwavering,” said Brown.

Public Safety Commissioner Tim Coll released an initial statement criticizing the report as having been “woefully incomplete” in its description of SSPD’s treatment of protestors. Coll has said that those initial inaccuracies had been fixed, but did not respond to further requests for comment.

Saratoga BLM founder Lex Figuereo says the group is filing multiple lawsuits against the officials named in the report and urges the city to go beyond the AG’s recommendations.

“The recommendations feel right, they don’t feel strong enough. Also, I want to see criminal charges pressed because under the—legal insert in the report it clearly says they violated some legalities. So, I’m going to call for the City Council and the AG to call for a special prosecutor to come here and look at these charges and get these people locked up. We want justice. The same way they would lock me up or lock us up quick for speaking too much, we want you locked up for violating rights,” said Figuereo.

Figuereo was one of several activists targeted by former officials. SSPD conducted an unfounded Child Protective Service investigation against Figuereo and the mother of his children at Kelly’s request following a July 2021 protest.

The report also finds officials including Kelly did not "fully comply" with the probe. In one example, the report says Kelly submitted only 53 pages of relevant text messages to investigators, whereas Dalton turned over more than 37,000 pages.

In a statement Kelly said, “the statements contained in the Attorney General’s report that I was not fully cooperative with the inquiry are patently false.” Kelly says her attorney has sent the AG a letter proving the report’s findings are untrue and asking it to be amended.

Dalton and Police Chief Tyler McIntosh did not respond to requests for comment.

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