A lawyer representing the estate of Daniel Satre — the Ballston Spa man who died after a confrontation with six police officers — is asking the county prosecutor to recuse her office from the case and have the state attorney general conduct an investigation.
In letters sent to Saratoga County District Attorney-elect Karen Heggen and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, lawyer Terence Kindlon asked that the attorney general’s office take over the ongoing probe into the 43-year-old Satre’s death Sept. 20. In requesting the intervention, Kindlon cited Schneiderman’s recent letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo asking for the power to investigate and prosecute cases involving unarmed civilians killed by police officers.
Schneiderman asked the governor Dec. 8 to issue an executive order allowing him the authority to replace county prosecutors under certain circumstances until the state Legislature can execute necessary reforms to the justice system. His letter came five days after and in response to a Staten Island grand jury deciding against seeking an indictment against the officers involved in the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed man wrestled to the ground by police using a controversial chokehold.
“The question in these difficult cases is not whether a local prosecutor, including one with understandably close ties to his or her fellow local law enforcement officers, is capable of setting aside any personal biases in deciding whether, or how vigorously, to pursue the case,” Schneiderman wrote in his letter to the governor. “Rather, the question is whether there is public confidence that justice has been served, especially in cases where homicide or other serious charges against the accused officer are not pursued or are dismissed prior to a trial by jury.”
In addition, Kindlon cited a case from the 1990s in which Gov. George Pataki removed then-Bronx District Attorney Robert T. Johnson from prosecuting accused cop-killer Angel Diaz. Pataki issued an executive order requiring then-Attorney General Dennis Vacco to replace Johnson because the county prosecutor refused to seek the death penalty.
Pataki’s order was challenged up to the state Court of Appeals, which ultimately ruled the governor didn’t exceed his statutory authority in ordering a special prosecutor. The case was affirmed in 1997, giving the governor the discretion to supersede a district attorney without establishing necessity for his action.
Kindlon said Satre’s case seems like one fit for a special prosecutor, since it involves three police agencies that all work closely with the Saratoga County District Attorney’s Office. He questions whether any of the three — Ballston Spa police, state troopers and Saratoga County sheriff’s deputies — can objectively investigate a case involving their fellow officers.
“You have three police agencies investigating themselves,” he said. “If this is not such a situation, then I don’t know what is.”
A spokesman for Schneiderman’s office declined to comment.
Kindlon’s call for a special prosecutor could fall on deaf ears. In making his announcement earlier this month, Schneiderman said he doesn’t intend to pursue any cases retroactively if the governor grants him the authority.
Still, Satre’s family continues to call for Schneiderman to launch an investigation. In early November, they posted a petition on Change.org that has since garnered more than 2,000 signatures; they also have letters of support from several congressional representatives in Vermont, where most of Satre’s family lives.
On the night of Satre’s death, Ballston Spa police received a call from a motorist claiming to be obstructed by a screaming man standing in the middle of Saratoga Avenue, a narrow street running parallel to Route 50 at the north end of the village. Responding officers encountered Satre, who they say became combative and fought with them as they tried to take him into custody.
An additional eight officers arrived, including some from the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office and state police. Satre was struck with a Taser four times before being handcuffed, but then became unresponsive. Officers tried to resuscitate him at the scene, but he never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead at Albany Medical Center shortly after midnight.
Satre’s official cause of death has not been released to the public or his family. Some witnesses to the encounter claim he was brutally beaten before losing consciousness.
Heggen said her office continues to oversee the investigation and does not believe she needs to step away from the case. She said she doesn’t intend to ask for a special prosecutor.
“I’m aware of my ethical obligations, I’ve examined this case and I don’t believe my office has a conflict,” she said Tuesday.
Heggen wasn’t sure when the investigation will wrap up. She said authorities continue to interview witnesses and compile details in the case.
“I want to do this right,” she said.