A handful of racial justice activists were arrested Tuesday night outside Saratoga Springs City Hall under warrants related to a July 14 protest.
More arrests may be coming on violation and misdemeanor charges in connection to the protest, during which protesters and police blocked traffic, according to police and court records. Saratoga police Lt. Bob Jillson on Wednesday confirmed that there were more arrest warrants outstanding but would not provide names of those the department sought.
Saratoga County sheriff’s deputies on Tuesday evening originally detained Lexis Figuereo, a lead organizer of protests in Saratoga Springs over the past year, while he was on his way to a college class. Deputies then transferred him to the Saratoga Springs Police Department on a warrant for disorderly conduct related to the July protest, which resulted in a slew of other arrests of protesters at the time.
Figuereo was also charged with two separate counts of second-degree obstruction of governmental administration stemming from two City Council meetings – July 6 and July 20 – where he allegedly disrupted the meeting and prevented Mayor Meg Kelly “from performing her official functions during a City Council meeting by continuously yelling over her and forcing the mayor to suspend the meeting,” according to arrest records dated Sept. 7.
A group of other activists and supporters on Tuesday gathered outside of the Police Department entrance at City Hall, asking for information about Figuereo’s arrest and status. With a group of city police officers and sheriff’s deputies gathered at the door, a sheriff’s deputy opened the door, pointed to three women activists and said, “You, you and you, come on in,” indicating they needed to come inside with the officers.
The activists in video footage of the incident could be heard asking “why?” and “are we under arrest?” As the police moved to physically detain the women, they repeatedly asked, “For what? For what?”
The three women – activists Chandler Hickenbottom, Samira Sangare and Molly Dunn – were all arrested on violation disorderly conduct charges in connection to the July 14 protest. Dunn was also charged with second-degree unlawful imprisonment, a misdemeanor, related to blocking traffic. The arrest warrants were dated Aug. 31, but the activists did not appear to know that the warrants existed.
Saratoga police on Wednesday alleged the July 14 protest crossed the line into criminal behavior when protesters stopped traffic on Broadway and “surrounded innocent civilians stuck inside their vehicles,” according to a Wednesday release from the Police Department.
“The Saratoga Springs Police Department recognizes the right to peacefully and lawfully protest but many of the acts committed on July 14th are not only unlawful acts, but they placed the protesters and the public in harm’s way,” Police Chief Shane Crooks said in a statement Wednesday.
Court records include at least two sworn statements from motorists who said they were stuck in traffic during the July protest, including someone in a Lexus SUV who said some of the protesters carried pillowcases and that the witness was “afraid they were going to attack us.”
Activists have argued that the police response to their July protest did as much or more to disrupt traffic; during part of the protest, a line of officers stretched across Broadway as they moved in on protesters and made some arrests. The activists have also criticized police for what they argue was a heavy-handed and militarized response and unnecessarily aggressive arrests; many of the officers carried long batons and wore riot gear. “What’s with the riot gear, I don’t see no riot here,” protesters have chanted at marches.
John Schroeder, a supporter of the racial justice protests of the past year, said he was downtown on Tuesday and headed over to the police station to see what was happening. He said a group of people were standing around the Police Department entrance for about 30 minutes before the officers arrested four women who were there, including Hickenbottom, Figuereo’s sister and another organizer of protests and rallies in the city, Sangare and Dunn.
Police also arrested 27-year-old Gabriellee Elliot, of Ballston Spa, on charges of attempted assault, resisting arrest and endangering the welfare of a child. Police accused her of throwing a water bottle at an officer and resisting arrest. In the video, Elliot can be seen holding on to a stroller as the police physically detained her, her children crying throughout.
Schroeder, who witnessed Elliot’s arrest, said he was disturbed by the way police arrested Elliot in front of her children.
“They ripped the stroller out of her hands, pinned her arms behind her, the kids were screaming. It was the most disturbing thing I have seen in Saratoga Springs,” Schroeder said. “The only threat to those children was the police officers. It was hard to watch.”
Schroeder said that he thought the latest arrests were a scare tactic from police, and questioned why the activists were arrested on warrants rather than issued summons for low-level crimes.
“They [the police] went over the videos of a protest in July and figured out what kind of charges they can bring on anyone there,” Schroeder said. “Clearly, at this point what we are seeing is Saratoga Springs police looking to intimidate protesters through trumped up charges and arrests, which is not OK.”
The arrests unfolded just as the City Council met for a regular meeting upstairs in City Hall. Some speakers at the City Council meeting lamented what they described as a heavy-handed police response that promised to further fray community distrust. The City Council approved funding to support mediation between city officials and Saratoga Black Lives Matter, the activist group led by Figuereo, Hickenbottom, Sangare and other activists, an idea that has been under discussion for months.