Saratoga DA discontinues gag order, files new proceeding against 2 city officials in Nov. 20 shooting (with video)

Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim speaks beside Commissioner of Public Safety James Montagnino during a press conference at City Hall Thursday after Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen withdrew her gag order issued against the city.

Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim speaks beside Commissioner of Public Safety James Montagnino during a press conference at City Hall Thursday after Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen withdrew her gag order issued against the city.

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SARATOGA SPRINGS — Mayor Ron Kim and Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino took a victory lap during a press conference Thursday morning following news that District Attorney Karen Heggen had dropped her gag order barring city officials and employees from speaking publicly about a Nov. 20 shooting downtown.

“I’m glad that District Attorney Heggen has finally seen the error in her ways in trying to suppress the First Amendment rights of separately elected public officials and their employees,” Kim said. “I hope that we can now focus on bringing the perpetrators of this incident on Nov. 20 to justice in a manner that is consistent with a free and open society.”

News that the court order was dropped comes just hours after Heggen announced late Wednesday that she had filed a legal proceeding against the city seeking review of Kim and Montagnino’s actions during a press conference Nov. 20, the release of video footage from the shooting and comments made by Kim and Montagnino in the days following the incident. 

The original gag order was granted by Supreme Court Judge Dianne Freestone in Saratoga County on Nov. 23. Heggen has repeatedly affirmed her stance that Kim and Montagnino’s actions and comments have severely hindered her office’s ability to investigate the incident. 

“The impact of the dissemination of the police body camera footage served to create a severe chilling effect on police investigation efforts,” she states in court documents. “In some cases, individuals in the incident declined to be interviewed by the police.”

Montagnino has remained firm on his stance that releasing the officer body camera footage was the right and transparent thing to do and that this situation happened due to a “butting of heads that occurs because of a difference in philosophy.”

“Body cameras exist for accountability and for transparency and openness,” he said. “The taxpayers paid for that equipment because the people want to be informed. Similarly the cameras on Broadway belong to the city, the residents, the taxpayers, the voters of the city.”

The latest legal move by Heggen seeks a preliminary injunction against Kim and Montagnino that would bar them from “disclosing information and evidence related to the investigation in the form of public commentary for a period of 60 days or until the grand jury has heard all evidence in the case and made a determination pursuant to Criminal Procedure Law Article 190, which ever occurs sooner,” according to court documents. 

Heggen said she has made repeated attempts to discuss the gag order and how to handle media inquiries in the future but did not hear back from the city. 

The city was requested to respond by noon Wednesday on whether they agreed to Heggen’s proposal that the city would follow Policy 324, according to a letter sent Dec. 20 by Karl Sleight, the outside counsel representing Heggen to city attorney Anthony Izzo and James Knox, the outside counsel representing the city. 

Policy 324 dictates how the city Police Department will handle media relations.

Saratoga Springs Mayor Ronald Kim:


@dgazette Saratoga Springs Mayor Ronald Kim on the Nov. 20 shooting gag order – More at – Daily Gazette

“Simply put, the SSPD [Saratoga Springs Police Department] policy governs all the issues that are of concern to the district attorney and that resulted in the TRO [temporary restraining order] request to Justice Freestone,” Sleight said in the letter. 

Under Policy 324, all media requests to the Police Department would be filtered through the department’s public information officer or supervisor if the public information officer was unavailable. 

The policy also noted that those responding to the media should consider the following: 

  • No comments or information should be released to the media without prior approval by the public information officer or supervisor.
  • When there are multiple agencies or departments involved in an incident then there should be a coordinated effort to release information to the media that has been authorized by representatives of each involved agency.
  • That no one in the department is allowed to make any comments to the media on incidents not involving the Saratoga Spring Police Department without prior approval from the chief of police. In those cases the person must direct the media outlet to the appropriate agency. 

If the city agreed to Heggen’s request then she would have agreed to request the court order be discontinued, according to the letter from her attorney. 

Heggen said that city officials rejected her proposal.

Kim said Wednesday evening the city was unable to have discussions with Heggen because it needed to secure outside counsel first, which is a “difficult process.” 

At a special City Council meeting Dec. 16 the city hired Knox, of E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy, for $400 per hour to handle the matter and file responses the judge had requested on the issue after the city attorney indicated he did not have enough background in handling these sorts of court matters. 

“Until we had retained an attorney who could consult with us we had delayed moving forward with any kind of letter or discussion because we wanted attorneys involved,” he said. “When we did get that basically they advised us to file our briefs, do what the court has asked us to do, which is what we’ve done and then if the DA wants to meet us great we’re happy to do that. We communicated that to her.”

Montagnino said during the press conference that they had not been served the DA’s court proceeding yet but were able to find it through electronic filing about 20 minutes prior to the conference. 

“That will play out in the ordinary course and I’m certain of what the result will be,” he said. “The bottom line here is the First Amendment won, freedom of speech and freedom of the press won. The district attorney backed down and gave up.”

Categories: -News-, News, Saratoga County, Saratoga Springs

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