SARATOGA SPRINGS – Lexis Figuereo, the Saratoga Black Lives Matter leader, again rejected a plea deal in Saratoga Springs City Court on Thursday, saying he continues to believe the charges against him are a targeted response to his activism efforts. He is calling for all charges to be dropped.
“We are not going to accept any disorderly conduct. I’m not accepting obstruction of governmental administration. I’m pleading not guilty because I did not commit any crime, plain and simple,” Figuereo said on the front steps of City Hall following his court appearance. “We will go to trial if we need to go to trial. We’re ready to go to trial.”
In fact, the next step in the three cases against Figuereo will be an April 26 discovery hearing that could result in any action ranging from Hon. Francine R. Vero dismissing all charges to scheduling pretrial hearings, according to Mark Mishler, Figuereo’s attorney.
A snippet of what Lexis Figuereo had to say after his court appearance, where he rejected a plea deal. @dgazette pic.twitter.com/J0iVDzsFUQ
— Andrew Waite (@UpstateWaite) April 14, 2022
Figuereo faces one charge of disorderly conduct stemming from alleged conduct during a July 14, 2021, protest and two charges of obstruction of governmental administration for alleged conduct during July Saratoga Springs City Council meetings last year.
The deal offered by the district attorney’s office would have Figuereo plead guilty to a single count of disorderly conduct with a fine to be determined by the judge, Assistant District Attorney Joseph Frandino said during the court appearance.
Ahead of the Thursday morning court appearance, Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim and Commissioner of Finance Minita Sanghvi stood on the front steps of City Hall to speak in support of the charges being dropped.
“We’re talking about a First Amendment right to protest. We’re not talking about somebody burglarizing a car,” Kim said. “Why we are even wasting taxpayer money dealing with this seems to be insanity. It is not cost free to have all the appearances and all the rest of this stuff. I don’t know why the district attorney did not dismiss this, or the judge, a long time ago.”
Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen did not return a voicemail seeking comment on Thursday afternoon.
Kim’s words in support of dropping the charges follow an April 5 Saratoga Springs City Council meeting during which members of the Black Lives Matter movement called on city leaders to lobby on behalf of the cases being dismissed.
“We’re all listening to people that are coming in. It’s not just an empty exercise,” Kim said of his decision to speak on behalf of the charges being dropped following the council meeting.
The defense and prosecution remain at odds about important details in the cases, including the interpretation of the disorderly conduct charge, whether the threat of jail time has ever been levied and what information should be disclosed ahead of any potential trial.
The disorderly conduct charge against Figuereo has to do with his alleged role in blocking traffic on Broadway during the July 14 protest.
Frandino said video evidence points to Figuereo’s culpability.
“There are numerous videos from numerous angles depicting him in the area at issue,” the assistant DA said.
But Mishler argues that the charge relates to Figuereo blocking one particular vehicle.
“He was not standing in front of that car at that time and that location, period. Absolute period,” Mishler said on the City Hall steps following the court appearance. “That’s how we interpret the written charge. They have their position, we have our position.”
Another disagreement has to do with whether Figuereo faces the threat of jail time. While Frandino said incarceration has never been on the table, Figuereo shared a written statement filed by the district attorney’s office in response to the defense’s pretrial motions that suggests otherwise.
“Indeed, a sentence of incarceration – even the possibility of incarceration – is appropriate in this matter, even if this Court were to exercise its discretion after trial by declining to incarcerate Defendant,” reads the DA office’s filing, which Figuereo sent to members of the press. “As discussed, Defendant has a prior criminal history, and the charges against Defendant – which implicate the orderly functioning of public discourse – are inherently serious.”
Figuereo said the prosecution is factoring in both a petty larceny charge that’s more than a decade old and Figuereo’s advocacy work as the leader of Saratoga Black Lives Matter to pursue trumped up charges.
“When you’re Black and you’re fighting for your rights, when you’re Black and you’re calling people out, they decide to treat you like a criminal. They decide to call you a terrorist, they decide to abuse you,” Figuereo said.
A third disagreement is about material to be disclosed ahead of a potential trial. Particularly, Mishler’s motion claims the prosecution’s pre-trial paperwork fails to include information about undercover police officers being present during the July 14 protest.
“The use of ‘undercovers’ was and is of tremendous concern to the defense as we are well aware of the shocking history in this country of unjustified and unconstitutional law enforcement infiltration, surveillance and the disruption of activist movements, particularly Black activist movements,” court papers read.
Saratoga Springs Police Chief Shane Crooks did not respond to a voicemail and email seeking comment on Thursday, but he has previously acknowledged to news outlets that plain clothes officers were present on July 14.
“The Saratoga Springs Police Department did not have undercover officers participate in the protest. We did have plain clothes officers referred to as ‘undercover’ observe from a distance,” Crooks told NPR affiliate WAMC earlier this year. “This was done so that we did not interfere with the protest event and to provide us with advance notice when the protesters were on the move and taking to the streets. As you are aware when protesters or anyone decide to take to the streets and walk into oncoming traffic it is not only unlawful but creates a safety risk for all involved. The advance notice allowed us to stop traffic in the area in a timely manner and help to reduce that risk.”
While Mishler said he had hoped Vero would have ruled to dismiss all charges on Thursday, he said he remains optimistic.
“I’m feeling very positive about the conversation that we had with the judge and the DA this morning,” Mishler said. “That doesn’t guarantee what will happen. I’m just saying that I feel comfortable saying that the significant issues we have raised have been heard, and they are being taken seriously.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.
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