SARATOGA SPRINGS – Four newly-elected Democrats ushered in their era on the City Council on Tuesday night by authorizing the mayor to sign and send a letter to Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen requesting a grand jury investigation into the death of Darryl Mount Jr.
The biracial Mount died in 2014, following a chase with police in 2013. Mount spent nine months in a coma before he died.
Saratoga police have said Mount apparently climbed scaffolding and fell. But his family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, alleging his injuries weren’t consistent with a fall.
Questions about the city Police Department’s handling of the case has been a source of discontent among racial justice protesters.
In their first council meeting together, Mayor Ron Kim and Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino, Commissioner of Accounts Dillon Moran and Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi joined Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco, a Republican.
The call for the grand jury investigation comes as little surprise: Montagnino, a former prosecutor, had pledged to do so after he won the November election.
Montagnino said it was his intention to have a written report about the city’s handling of the Mount case in hand as he was sworn in on Saturday.
But Montagnino tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 13, was released, after a nine-day stay in the hospital, on New Year’s Eve, and said he’s still suffering some of its effects, including a lack of energy. He apologized for not having the report prepared.
Montagnino said he intends to offer an oral report during a council meeting in February.
Asked in an interview if had drawn any conclusions from his study of the case, which included research by an Albany Law School student, Montagnino said: “What I intend to do is lay out what the facts are. Any reasonable person could draw their own conclusions.”
Montagnino said the public is already aware of some malfeasance, as former Police Chief Greg Veitch, while still working for the department, lied to a reporter by suggesting an internal investigation had been conducted on the case; however, the former chief admitted under oath during a deposition that the case had not been investigated internally, he said.
In another matter relevant to transparency in policing, the new council called for a public hearing about creation of a Civilian Review Board that would be in accordance with the recommendations of the city’s Police Reform Task Force.
The task force made recommendations after then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued an executive order that required all police agencies in the state to gather input and consider reform in light of concerns about racial justice.
Montagnino said he wanted to “shepherd into existence” a civilian review panel that is meaningful, has authority, and will answer the questions that people have about the way the city is policed.
Montagnino also expressed a desire to address the civil disobedience displayed by racial justice activists who at times engaged in heated exchanges with some of the recently-departed council members during meetings.
Black Lives Matter activist Lexis Figuereo has an upcoming city court hearing, after having been offered a plea deal that would drop two misdemeanor charges of obstruction of City Council meetings in July, provided he pleads guilty to a violation charge of disorderly conduct stemming from a July 14 protest during which he is accused of blocking traffic.
The new commissioner said he wanted to institute written policies that are in accordance with the city charter as to how residents and visitors are treated when they exercise their First Amendment right to express opinions during council meetings.
“This kind of civil disobedience needs to be treated differently from common criminality, because these are our neighbors, these are our friends, these are fellow human beings who work, who live, who suffer, who have things to say and opinions to express,” Montagnino said.
Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.