SARATOGA SPRINGS — Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino said he’ll now ask the governor to consider his request for a noncriminal grand jury investigation into the city police department’s actions relative to the 2014 death of Darryl Mount Jr.
Montagnino was spurned last week by Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen, who declined Montagnino’s request for her office to convene a grand jury investigation into the death of the biracial Mount.
Heggen said there’s no evidence any member of the Police Department committed a crime, and a probe of the since-retired police chief would be moot.
Montagnino said the City Council’s next meeting would include a resolution for Mayor Ronald Kim to ask Gov. Kathy Hochul to authorize the New York state Attorney General to convene the grand jury.
The request would require an executive order from the governor because common law, only as of 2015, vests the state AG with jurisdiction to do an investigation anytime an unarmed civilian dies in a police encounter.
The law is not retroactive to the 2013 foot chase.
Reached Thursday, Police Chief Shane Crooks declined to respond to a question about Montagnino’s persistence on the matter.
But Montagnino acknowledged that officers, to a varying degree, have told him they would prefer he not bring the matter back up.
Mount suffered injuries that led to his death and spent nine months in a coma before passing away.
Investigators said Mount fell from scaffolding in an alleyway. But his family and members of the Black Lives Matter community contend Mount’s injuries were consistent with a beating.
Heggen said all of the available information demonstrated the police acted appropriately that night, while the evidence suggested Mount broke the law, when he allegedly assaulted his girlfriend.
Questions about Mount’s death has resulted in numerous BLM protests the past two years.
To that end, Montagnino said he’s prepared a 47-page report about the Mount case.
It’s aimed at informing the “lay reader,” and based on thousands of pages of investigatory information on the matter from the civil lawsuit Mount’s estate has filed against the city.
Like Heggen, Montagnino said he found no wrongdoing by responding officers.
“It was all a failure of leadership in the aftermath, and that failure of leadership gave the public the impression or allowed people to draw the inference that somebody was trying to hide something,” Montagnino said.
The report is critical of retired Police Chief Greg Veitch, and then-Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen.
The commissioner said Veitch was required under police policy to assign an internal affairs officer to the case.
Veitch didn’t do that, but said in an email to the Saratogian newspaper the department investigated the police’s actions in the case.
Veitch later admitted during a deposition in the civil case that he had misled the reporter.
“The report is very, very critical of that because it’s a violation of his responsibility under the regulations that pertain to the department, and it’s a violation of the public trust by lying to a reporter. Because that’s lying to the public. It’s not a little white lie. It’s a major thing,” Montagnino said.
The commissioner said there’s also evidence Veitch — in an email that was intended to be read to officers at the roll call for the next shift of officers — took the immediate position that anybody who claimed to have witnessed police assault Mount had lied.
Montagnino also targets Mathiesen for deferring to the chief and not providing oversight.
Montagnino said the case would benefit from a secret grand jury proceeding because of the “multiple hearsay out in the community that contradicts what people have said either in sworn statements or in depositions.”
Montagnino pointed to a witness who told investigators he happened to look down the alley and saw police handcuffing somebody who appeared to be unconscious.
The commissioner said he’s heard “through channels” that the same witness said the injured man lifted his head, indicating he was conscious.
“The benefit of a grand jury investigation is that a person like this individual can be put under oath in a secret proceeding where there’s nobody putting pressure on it one way or another — and he’s immune from any prosecution for anything — and at least we would get as close to the truth is as humanly possible under the circumstances, eight years after the fact.”
Montagnino said he’s also watched the YouTube interview during which Mount’s girlfriend downplayed the severity of Mount’s alleged assault of her.
But under oath, the girlfriend testified she was bruised from being pushed into the brick wall.
The commissioner said his report would also go into detail about the circumstances of why Mount, a parolee, fled from police.
“I do a very long discussion of the parole system, and I do a long discussion of things like reasonable suspicion versus probable cause, and the gradations of evidence required to allow various levels of police intrusion into an individual’s freedom.”
Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.