SARATOGA SPRINGS — Activists are calling for the creation of a public safety civilian review commission in the wake of a damning media report about the police department’s handling of a 2013 foot pursuit by city police officers that led to the death of a young man.
Friday marks exactly five years since a foot pursuit through the city left 21-year-old Darryl Mount Jr. with severe injuries. Mount fell into a coma after the incident and died nine months later.
Last week, new scrutiny was cast upon the Police Department’s handling of the case, after a report by The Times Union revealed Police Chief Greg Veitch lied to the press and the public by saying the chase was reviewed in an internal investigation that, in fact, never was conducted.
And now, a city resident is calling for independent oversight of the city’s fire, police and EMS departments.
At an Aug. 21 City Council meeting, Saratoga Springs resident Sam Brewer said he would like the city to create a Public Safety Civilian Review Commission.
“It would divorce politics a little bit from the functions they serve in the city,” Brewer said. “The oversight would allow citizens to make complaints to an impartial board, who would investigate the situation themselves and make personnel action.
“The head of a department would be more concerned with legal liability, instead of finding out the truth and fixing the problem.”
Police said they chased Mount after witnessing him slam a woman’s head into a brick wall near the corner of Caroline Street and Broadway around 3 a.m. on Aug. 31, 2013.
During the chase, Mount turned down an alley on the north side of the Washington Building at 422 Broadway. Two attempts by police to subdue Mount using a Taser in the alley failed, and officers said they lost sight of Mount as he ran into a construction area at the back of the Washington Building.
Police said they found Mount unconscious on the sidewalk between Gaffney’s Restaurant and the former Izumi Bar and Grill. He had reportedly fallen nearly 20 feet, after climbing scaffolding behind 422 Broadway.
Mount was in a coma until his death in May 2014, which occurred at his mother’s home in Malta following a bout with pneumonia. He had been continuing physical therapy for injuries he suffered in the fall.
Patty Jackson, Mount’s mother, filed a lawsuit in November 2014 in Saratoga County Supreme Court against the city, alleging that “the actions of the police officers were reckless, abusive and constituted an excessive use of force,” which ultimately led to her son’s death.
The lawsuit said Mount, who was black, “suffered blunt force trauma to his head that resulted in severe facial injuries, fractures and brain damage,” and that Mount’s ethnicity may have played a role in the actions of Saratoga Springs police officers.
Jackson’s lawsuit is in the pretrial stages and has been assigned to state Supreme Court Judge Robert Chauvin.
At a September 2014 City Council meeting, friends, family and supporters of Darryl Mount Jr. demanded to know how he suffered life-threatening injuries and brain damage as a result of the chase.
Former Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen said at the meeting that he would ensure a thorough investigation be conducted into the incident.
Saratoga Springs Police Chief Greg Veitch told The Daily Gazette after the September 2014 City Council meeting that he didn’t fear an outside investigation.
“I stand by the credibility of the investigation that was done,” he said.
The Times Union report about the lack of any such investigation, however, is fueling the push for more oversight, and Brewer said a civilian review board would expand the number of voices who deal with issues such as alleged police misconduct.
“I wouldn’t want just one person looking at a complex situation,” he said.
Veitch said he doesn’t think a civilian review board is necessary in Saratoga Springs.
“It is my responsibility, along with the elected commissioner of Public Safety, to ensure discipline and accountability within the ranks of the police department,” he said. “Our record indicates a willingness to discipline and remove officers from the force when warranted.”
Public Safety Commissioner Peter Martin agrees with Veitch, that a civilian review board isn’t needed.
“The terminology sounds great, but the question is, does it bring advantages to the city? And after researching civilian review boards, the answer is no,” Martin said. “Police issues are often very complex, and include lengthy sets of procedures that our city Police Department has adopted, as well as state statutory procedures about how police forces and officers must act.
“It’s not something you’d pick up for light reading — it takes study, and it’s something I’ve familiarized myself with because it’s part of my job.”
Martin said the city’s Police Department already reports to civilians — himself and Deputy Public Safety Commissioner John Daley.
“A civilian review board makes sense when there is a thin blue line — the camaraderie that develops among police — which can impact decisions that are made,” he said. “In the case of the Saratoga Springs Police Department, the oversight is made by people who are not a part of that thin blue line.
“We’re best served by not having one.”
Martin said after the Mount incident, the city posted videos from Caroline Street, as well as correspondence it received about the case, on its website.
“I want to re-post everything that was up there before, plus provide additional information, so the public can see the allegations are unfounded,” he said. “The best way to do that is to bring light to the subject, and that’s my intention in this case, and to act the same with any future cases.”
Mayor Meg Kelly would not comment for this story.