Saratoga Springs police officers responded around 3 a.m. on Nov. 20 to reports of a shooting in the city’s upscale shopping, restaurant and bar district, a frenetic scene that would end with 10 bullet holes left in an off-duty Vermont sheriff’s deputy and two others being injured.
The late-night shootout in the city’s popular downtown looks to be the first case in the state involving one of New York’s new gun laws — possession of a firearm in a secure location.
“I think that it is. I haven’t heard of any anywhere else,” said Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association. “We don’t necessarily hear about all of the cases.”
A county grand jury recently handed up an indictment charging the off-duty deputy, 25-year-old Vito Caselnova of Glens Falls, with various offenses including the new felony gun charge. The count was lodged by the grand jury presumably because of where the incident took place — at the corner of Broadway and bar-lined Caroline Street.
In surveillance footage of the shootout, Caselnova is shown waving a gun at a handful of other men at the scene while Saratoga Springs police officers swarm the area and command him to drop his weapon. Caselnova doesn’t, and the officers open fire on him, dropping him to the sidewalk with non-fatal hits.
Under the state’s new gun laws, a suspect can be charged with possession of a firearm in a secure location when a crime occurs in locations such as a church, school or “any establishment issued a license for on-premise consumption pursuant to article four, four-A, five or six of the alcohol beverage control law.”
Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen, whose office is prosecuting the case, said she couldn’t comment on the conversations and deliberations pertaining to the charge that occurred inside the grand jury room because they are secret.
“They did vote to indict Mr. Caselnova on that charge, which was applicable and on the books on the day of the incident in November,” she said.
The state’s new concealed-carry laws, including the charge Caselnova faces, are currently at the crux of five lawsuits being heard in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, King said. Those lawsuits are challenging the constitutionality of the state laws. King said the current laws are similar to ones that were overturned in the U.S. Supreme Court case New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen.
In the Caselnova case in Saratoga County, the firearm charge is notable due to the infancy of the law, but it’s not the top count against him. He is also charged with first-degree attempted murder, first-degree assault, as well as two counts of possession of a large capacity ammunition-feeding device, second-degree reckless endangerment and second-degree menacing, both misdemeanors, and second-degree harassment, a violation.
The grand jury also indicted three men from Utica with misdemeanors stemming from the shootout — Alexander Colon, 29, Darius Wright, 30, and Christopher Castillo, 29.
Authorities had previously indicated that Colon was in possession of a gun, although he wasn’t indicted on a gun charge.
The recent indictments have once again shined a light on concerns surrounding Saratoga Springs’ nightlife scene, which has included a number of violent events in recent years.
Gordon Boyd, who is running for a county Board of Supervisors seat representing the city, sent a letter to Board Chairman Todd Kusnierz asking that the county enact a local law prohibiting people from being armed while intoxicated — calling it the “Drunk with Guns prohibition.”
“The gun violence that occurred last November 20 in downtown Saratoga Springs was frightening and horrific,” said Boyd, a Democrat. “It put our courageous police officers in danger, as well as dozens of bystanders, casting a cloud over our vibrant downtown.”
In the letter and press release, Boyd said the county has the authority to enact such a measure.
“With our vibrant tourism economy, and our increasingly global presence in the technology industry, visitors to our county should feel every protection we can muster,” he said. “A local law to prohibit ‘drunks with guns” would allow law enforcement and prosecutors to increase the cost for people who think they can come here to party and bring their guns along with them.”
This latest push for the county to enact measures follows attempts by the city to get a 2 a.m. bar-closure time. Bars are currently allowed to stay open until 4 a.m.
The latest push for the earlier closing time ended with the city approving a procedure to send a letter to the State Liquor Authority requesting they set a 2 a.m. closure whenever a new bar seeks approval for a license or is set to renew their license.
The Nov. 20 incident also led to the creation of a downtown committee by Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran that included police officials, bar owners and other organizations.
That committee has met four times since being created in late December and several times as various subcommittees. Moran said the group has some ideas for improving the safety of the nightlife scene in the city, but wouldn’t go into detail as the group sorts through legal approaches related to those ideas.
The committee is also preparing training for bar owners and employees with the help of the police and fire departments. Moran said those training will include everything from CPR and reading licenses to de-escalation techniques and what to do if someone is in the bar with a gun.
Reporter Shenandoah Briere can be reached at [email protected].