Learn about the charter change proposals that will be on this November’s ballot in Saratoga Springs.
Vince DeLeonardis, City Attorney and chair of the current Charter Review Commission, will discuss the two ballot questions that will be put before voters and answer questions. Several Commissioners and Deputies who were on the Charter Commission are also expected to attend. The meeting will be held at the Saratoga Springs Public Library on Wednesday, October 3, at 6:30PM. The event is a public educational meeting sponsored by SUCCESS. All are invited to attend.
The two ballot questions will read as follows:
1. Shall the Saratoga Springs City Charter be amended as proposed by the 2018 Charter Review Commission?
[This proposes updates and adjustments to the current commission form of government.]
2. Shall the Saratoga Springs City Charter be further amended to provide for two (2) additional City Council members whose authority shall be legislative only?
The Charter Commission’s full report and the proposed changes are available on the city website as are videos and minutes of all of their meetings.
The neighbors of the proposed Code Blue facility that was planned for Walworth Street have prevailed in a lawsuit that challenged the approval of by the Zoning Board of Appeals and the building inspector at the time, Steve Shaw. Readers may recall an earlier post on this project. I would like to have supported the project but it was based on the claim that the facility met the zoning requirements for this neighborhood because it was a “rooming house.” Regrettably I was right that there was no way to defend that the large facility planned met the criteria for a rooming house.
What made this case unusual was that the neighbors had the deep pockets required to pursue their suit. It is unfortunate that many other problematic decisions by the ZBA were able to go forward because in most cases people do not have the money to go to court.
On August 27 the Times Union published a deeply disturbing story by Barbara Lombardo on the death of Darryl Mount and the questionable events surrounding the police review following their apprehension of Mr. Mount in Saratoga Springs on Aug. 31, 2013. Mr. Mount was severely injured from a head wound from which he subsequently died. The police report alleges that there were no witnesses to the injury and that Mr. Mount died as a result of a fall from scaffolding at a building site following police pursuit.
Ms. Lombardo was able to draw on recently revealed materials. As part of their suit against the city the attorney for Mount’s family was able to secure documents and to depose under oath city police and officials.
The forensic specialist hired by Mount’s family reported:
“The absence of any injuries to his arms and hands are inconsistent with an accidental fall, in which a conscious individual would have made an effort to reach out with his arms and hands in an attempt to protect his face and head,” wrote Dr. Cyril H. Wecht in a November 2014 report. “X-rays of the chest, abdomen and pelvis on admission (to the hospital) did not reveal any traumatic injuries. Mr. Mount’s injuries are consistent with trauma sustained from a direct assault, i.e., physical beating.”
I would like to acknowledge that I am indebted to Ms. Lombardo for prompting my interest in the case. Ms. Lombardo, who for many years served as the editor of The Saratogian, left the newspaper in 2015. She wrote the article for the Times Union as a “citizen journalist.” She blogs at Done With Deadlines . Her story is quite comprehensive and I urge readers to take the time to read the entire article.
To me the most shocking revelation in her piece was an email sent out by Police Chief Gregory Veitch just two days after the August 31 events.
At a minimum this poorly worded email written on September 2, 2013, has a Kafkaesque quality. It was written to be read to the police officers for their next roll call. Chief Veitch assures his officers that he has already determined that they bore no responsibility for Mount’s death in spite of the fact that the investigation had just begun, that he had just requested from the public that witnesses come forward, and that the city had yet to request that a forensic assessment of Mr. Mount’s injuries be carried out (the injury put Mr. Mount in a coma from which he never regained full consciousness prior to his death on May 13th, 2014).
In this same email he tells them, “I will take a statement from someone who alleges the police beat Mount knowing it is false to ensure knowing the truth.”
This city had a right to assume that the investigation would be carried out professionally and impartially. It begs credibility to suggest, given this email, that this was possible.
The issue here does not involve what I or anyone else thinks about Mr. Mount himself. Based on video recordings, it seems clear that he pushed his girlfriend on Caroline Street which prompted the police attempt to apprehend him. I am not offering any judgment regarding the accusations made by Mr. Mount’s family. I am not making any accusation regarding the police officers involved in the incident. I do not know how Mr. Mount sustained the injuries that led to his death.
What I do know is that Mr. Mount, like any other citizen who was severely injured as a result of an interaction with part of our government, deserved a thorough, impartial, and professional review by our city and that the established procedures of the police department in particular should have been rigorously observed.
The evidence that this was not done in the case of Mr. Mount is simply overwhelming.
The police department has something called General Order #25 [JK: The full text is at the end of this post]. This lays out in great detail how the city shall handle a complaint against the city’s police department. It is worth quoting Section 1. II from the order:
“Community support for its police department and its mission is contingent upon citizen confidence in the integrity the department and its policies, procedures, rules, and personnel. It is our policy to courteously receive, and fairly investigate all complaints made against the department and its activities, practices and personnel. Our policy goal shall be to…instill confidence in citizens regarding the integrity of the department and its personnel, and seek redress for false accusations made against the agency and its personnel.”
I think the citizens of our city can be proud of this statement along with the procedures that follow. I would take special note that this asserts not only the need to properly investigate for the purposes of uncovering possible wrong doing on the part of the city but also to defend the city against “false accusations.” It reinforces the essential character of an internal investigation that it not only establishes confidence in the citizens when it acknowledges wrongdoing but also when it exposes abuses by those making irresponsible accusations.
The language of General Order #25 is quite strong. It requires that any complaint against the department must initiate an “internal investigation” according to a detailed set of procedures. The language is extensive [JK: Full text at end of post] but to give the sense of how broad the requirement is, I offer the following quote which lays out the three criteria for what represents a complaint:
Any allegation of an alleged act or omission which, if substantiated, is contrary to the rules, policies and procedures of the department;
Any alleged act or omission which, if substantiated, would constitute a violation of law; or
Any allegation which tends to indicate an actual or potential defect in department policies, procedures, rules or in the delivery of police services.
I draw the readers’ attention to the phrase “if substantiated.” as it will be discussed later in this blog.
What is clear is that the language of the Order requires that any complaint made to the department trigger an internal investigation. There are no qualifiers. There is no reference to any discretionary authority to circumvent an internal investigation. I will discuss the issue in more detail but then Commissioner Mathiesen asserts in an email to me that Chief Veitch determined that there was no substance to the complaints of the Mount family and that this absolved the department of following General Order #25 for an internal investigation.
Not only was I unable to find any language supporting Dr. Mathiesen’s claim but the language of the Order clearly addresses the question. The definition of a complaint according to the Order is broad and leaves the process of determining its “substance” to the internal investigation and not to the chief of police. A complaint is defined as a charge that “if substantiated” would meet the criteria listed above. There is nothing in the Order that authorizes the chief of police to decide on his own if the complaint has substance. That authority lies with the internal investigation.
Chief Veitch appears to have violated police department policy by ignoring the requirements of General Order #25. As if this were not troubling enough, under oath when being deposed he admitted he had lied when he told the media that the department was performing an internal investigation (General Order #25).
Chris Mathiesen’s Response
Before drafting this blog, I reached out to Dr. Mathiesen to ensure that I was interpreting General Order #25 correctly (the full texts of both my emails and his responses are below). In my original email I asked him three questions:
Why did the city not adhere to the procedures required under General Order #25?
Had he read the police chief’s email and if so, when?
Had the police officers who were directly involved in the event been interviewed regarding what had occurred.
In his responses he claimed that Chief Veitch was not required to adhere to the procedures covered under General Order #25 because the chief had determined that there was no substance to the complaints.
He said he was not familiar with Chief Veitch’s email.
He said the department’s investigation of the incident included written statements from the officers involved.
I then wrote Dr. Mathiesen back asking him if he could cite where the chief of police was authorized to dispense with following the procedures as required under General Order #25. I also sent him a copy of Chief Veitch’s email.
His response began with “Sorry John that you continue not to get it. “ He goes on to assert that it would be “irresponsible” for the chief to investigate every complaint. “That would be overkill and a great misuse of resources.” He goes on to write, “I gather from your response that I am wasting my time in explaining this to you.”
Missing from his email is an answer to my question as to a citation that would allow the chief the authority to circumvent Order #25. I also find it disheartening that he places a man’s death under the standard of “every complaint.”
The most disturbing element of his response was his unqualified embrace of Chief Veitch’s email. “Everything that the Chief said I would have endorsed.”
Apparently Dr. Mathiesen finds no problem with Veitch’s assurances to the police officers that he has prejudged the case and that he not only absolves the police of any culpability before the investigation can go forward but that, consistent with this, he will assess anyone who offers evidence otherwise as lying. How can someone who has made these statements be relied upon to pursue an investigation with the impartiality required to ferret out the truth?
It would seem not too much to expect to acknowledge that Chief Veitch showed extremely poor judgment in his email. I simply cannot see how any reasonable person would not acknowledge that the reports issued by his department on the Mount matter were tainted by his bias which he put into writing and which was unearthed in the discovery phase of the Mount family litigation.
City Council Members Respond
The Times-Union ran an article on August 29, 2018 titled “Spa Leaders Say Little About Chief With Deep Roots” in which reporter Wendy Liberatore chronicled the Veitch family’s long history in Saratoga Springs and sought comment from the members of the City Council regarding Chief Gregory Veitch.
According to the article: “To every question about Veitch and the 21-year-old black man who fell into a coma and later died after police pursued him in August 2013, (current Mayor Meg) Kelly would only repeat ‘I’m not commenting.’” The article reports that John Franck and Skip Scirocco, who were on the City Council at the time, did not respond to inquiries. Commissioner Michele Madigan, who also was on the council at the time, was the only one who responded on the record. She told the Times Union, “Chief Veitch has my full support. This is a complex case. There is more to the story than what has been reported on by the TU.”
With that in mind, I sent Commissioner Madigan a copy of Chief Veitch’s email and asked if this had any impact on her support. She responded as follows:
It’s always tragic when anyone loses their life and this is indeed a tragic incident. Again this is a complex case. This is all I care to say on the topic of the Chief and the Mount case as litigation is still pending.
As a side –Peter [JK: current Public Safety Commissioner Peter Martin]recently stated he was going to get this info back up on the website, not sure if that has happened yet.”
To her credit Commissioner Madigan at least acknowledges that there is an “issue” regarding the “internal” investigation.
.The grim reality is that there is no sign that Ms. Lombardo’s expose will have any impact on this failure by Dr. Mathiesen and Chief Veitch to responsibly investigate what happened on the night of August 31. Not only did the Mount family deserve better, but the police officers did as well. Instead we have set a standard which shames all of us. We are left with no faith that the most serious incidents that may occur in the future will be investigated with the rigorousness that they surely deserve.
Mathiesen Email Exchange
From: John Kaufmann 
Sent: Wednesday, September 19, 2018 8:16 PM
To: ‘Christian E. Mathiesen’
Subject: Mount Investigation
I am troubled by the stories that have appeared in the local papers regarding the death of Darrly Mount and the subsequent investigation by the police department during your tenure. I know that there has been some confusion about the nature of the investigation of Mr. Mount’s death and would appreciate clarification. Could you please respond to the following questions?
1. Why did the city not adhere to the procedures required under General Order #25?
The city established a set of procedures under General Order #25 for the handling of complaints related to the police department.
a. Under Section I it states as its purpose “To provide guidelines and procedures for the intake, investigation, and disposition of complaints made against the police department or its personnel.” Under Section III Definitions, it very broadly defines “complaint” to include pretty much any allegation against the department.
b. Under section C it defines what an “Internal Affairs Designee (IAD”) is. The definition
describes any “supervisor(s) or unit assigned primary responsibility to conduct investigation into a complaint…” I take it from the title that the investigation constitutes an “Internal” investigation.
c. Under section IV it charges the chief of police with designating the IAD. Under item 2 of this section it states that the IAD is responsible for “the internal affairs investigation.” This same section explicitly charges members of the department “should assist citizens who wish to make complaints by directing them to the appropriate supervisor.” It then lays out the procedures to be carried out by “Any police officer receiving a report of a complaint from a citizen.” These involve helping the complainant navigate the required steps. This section ends with the instructions that “Supervisory personnel shall refer serious complaints to the chief of police for assignment of an IAD for the follow up investigation.”
d. One of the definitions of what constitutes a serious complaint is “Complaints alleging excessive use of force.”
It is important to note how broad these procedures are. E 6 stipulates that “complaints shall be received regardless of their source (in-person, telephone, letter, anonymous, third party, etc.).”
So General Order #25 explicitly requires that a complaint against the city police department be investigated as an internal investigation. The directions to initiate the investigated are not in any way qualified. It makes no reference to any preliminary investigation findings that would determine whether an internal investigation is merited.
Sergeant Tim Sicko was deposed on February 2nd regarding this matter. Under oath he confirmed that he visited the hospital where Mount was being treated and met with Mount’s family. He confirmed that they made a complaint to him that they believed their son’s injuries were the result of a police beating. In Sicko’s statement he confirmed that he had passed this complaint on to Chief Veitch.
Sicko testified that he believed an internal affairs investigation should have been conducted based on the department’s written policies and practices. He stated that he believed the decision not to do an internal investigation was made by Chief Vietch.
Chris, you have stated publically that you believe that the city vigorously investigated the incident but chose not to carry out an internal investigation. Why did the police department fail to follow the procedures as laid out in Order #25 that the complaint by the Mount family required?
2.Chief Veitch’s Email of September 2
Were you aware of Chief Veitch’s email regarding instructions for the roll call dated September 2, 2013? If so, when did you become aware of this email?
3. Depositions re Darryl Mount Suit
Were you aware that the police officers deposed by the Mount family stated that they were never interviewed by the department regarding the events surrounding the injury of Darryl Mount?
Thank you in advance for your response.
From: “Christian E. Mathiesen” <> Date: September 22, 2018 at 10:16:19 AM EDT To: John Kaufmann <> Subject:Re: Mount Investigation
Hopefully, I can clarify some of these issues. The guidelines that you are describing regarding the initiation of and the need for an INTERNAL INVESTIGATION of the SSPD or a member of the department also call for the judgement on the part of the police chief of whether or not there is a basis for the complaint against the department. As Commissioner, it is my duty to determine whether the chief is acting properly. Chief Veitch did act properly.
Remember that John Tighe and members of the Mount family were initially claiming that Darryl’s female companion was not assaulted at all and that police officers came up to Darryl at the corner of Caroline and Broadway for no good reason and started beating him. The insisted that Darryl ran only because of the beating and that the police caught up with him in an alley to continue the beating. Hence the John Tighe heading ‘Did you hear the one about two white Saratoga Springs cops who went into an alley with a black kid?’.
The City installed the surveillance cameras in our nightclub district partly because there had been so many incidents where individuals were involved with altercations with our police. The City could not prove who initiated the aggression and ended up paying out settlements in order to avoid lawsuits that would be difficult to defend. The Darryl Mount incident became a glaring example of why the cameras (first suggested during Rick Wirth’s administration)are a very good addition to security in our downtown.
The camera on Broadway facing east on Caroline showed that the Mount family’s allegation were false. Darryl did physically assault his female companion and the police did not initiate any intervention until after the assault had taken place in their presence at 3:02 AM. The police were required to do so once they witnessed the assault which, according to eye witnesses, occurred after Darryl had been walking up Caroline screaming at his female companion.
Once John Tighe and the Mount family realized that the surveillance cameras disproved their initial allegations, they jumped on the questions about what happened after Darryl disappeared into the dark, wet scaffolding behind the Washington Building. No one can answer that because no one witnessed what happened. The police did interview residents of the building adjacent to the area in question. Many were asleep and heard nothing but some did hear running and one person heard something that sounded like something hitting the ground after falling. No one heard anything that would be consistent with a person being beaten up during the very few minutes when Darryl’s whereabouts were unaccounted for prior to the police contacting EMS an 3:08 AM.
John Tighe and members of the Mount family insisted that there were witnesses who would support their contention that Darryl was beaten up by the police. Both Chief Veitch and I stated publicly that we were waiting to hear these claims but nothing came of this. In the mean time, the officers involved filed their reports of the incident. Statements from eye witnesses on Caroline Street and residents of the adjacent building were compiled by investigators. Video footage from two cameras in the area, taser reports, blotter reports from 3:02 to 3:08 AM, and statements of emergency medical providers were all evaluated. No inconsistencies could be found to the assumption that Darryl must have fallen off the wet, completely dark sacffolding and suffered severe head injuries as a result of the fall.
An internal investigation of wrong-doing on the part of the SSPD or a member of the department would be initiated if an allegation could be substantiated. There has to be a basis for the claim. In this case, there was no indication that anyone in the department did anything wrong. John Tighe and the Mount family insisted that there be an outside agency brought in to investigate. However, there had been no discrepancies in the way that this incident was handled. I later found out that both the DA and the Attorney General were aware of the incident, had been contacted about doing an investigation and apparently decided that the investigation conducted by the SSPD was satisfactory. As recently as last month, former mayor Ray Watkin wrote a letter to the Gazette insisting the the Attorney General look into this. Not surprisingly, the Mount family no longer seems to be as adamant about this, probably because such an investigation could undermine their civil suit against the City.
One of the investigations that were done is often ignored. Traveler’s Insurance investigated thoroughly and decided that the Mount family allegations are baseless. Otherwise, they would have settled a long time ago to limit their expenses.
The answer to your question about Order #25 and the basis for initiating an internal investigation is that the family made allegations that were not consistent with the facts gathered during the investigation of the incident. The family has absolutely no idea of what happened that night since they were not present and they were not able to provide and to support their various allegations. In fact, their earliest allegation were easily proven false.evidence
I don’t know what Chief Veitch’s September 2 E mail said. You apparently have me at a disadvantage.
I haven’t seen the depositions of the police officers who were deposed by the Mount family attorney. The Mount family attorney has a problem since the facts are not on his side so I do understand that he is trying to make the police officers and Chief Veitch look bad. That is why he words his questions in the way that he does. It is unfortunate that the media would use his wordplay to create a salacious story that is not supported by the facts.
Once the criminal investigation of Darryl Mount was terminated (when he died in the spring of 2014), the Public Safety Dept. released extensive evidence that had been gathered during the investigation at a press conference that we held in June of 2014. The only thing not released was the video of the assault of Darryl’s female companion on Caroline Street since it is the policy of the department not to violate the privacy of domestic violence victims. However, still photos of the scene just before the assault and just after the assault were released, as were copies of the blotter and redacted statements of the officers involved, eye witnesses, residents of the adjacent building, the investigators and the EMS personnel who arrived on the scene. It is hard to imagine how Barbara Lombardo’s story ignored all those facts. I certainly hope that you will familiarize yourself with all that information before going any farther with this.
From: John Kaufmann 
Sent: Saturday, September 22, 2018 9:54 PM
Subject: Mount Investigation
Could you cite the police procedure that allows the chief of police to wave the requirements of General Order #25? The language of General Order #25 sets out the procedures triggered by a complaint. I can find nothing in the order that authorizes the chief to preempt the order. If there is some other statute or procedure could you please cite it?
Attached is a copy of the email of September 2nd. It appeared in the Barbara Lombardo story.
From: Christian E. Mathiesen 
Sent: Sunday, September 23, 2018 8:27 AM
To: John Kaufmann
Subject: Re: Mount Investigation
Sorry John that you continue not to get it. It would be very irresponsible for the Chief to initiate an internal investigation for every complaint against the department regardless of whether or not there was any basis for the complaint. That would be overkill and a great great mis-use of resources. A complaint coming from family members who were not present at the time of the incident and who were making allegations that were inconsistent with the facts would not result in an internal investigation.
I gather from your response that I am wasting my time in explaining this to you.
Regarding the E mail that you have attached, it reflects the atmosphere that the department was facing after John Tighe’s blog. Everything that the Chief said I would have endorsed. He was right. The police did nothing wrong that night. Word on the street was that certain people were going to use the incident to fan the flames. Word on the street was also that the family would be engaged in intimidation of anyone who would testify about what they witnessed unless it supported their version of occupancies. Chief Veitch was right to support his officers and to warn them of possible attempts to draw them into violent confrontations.
[JK: Vince DeLeonardis who serves as the city’s attorney, also chaired the Mayor’s Charter Review Commission. He recently wrote a piece for the Saratogian describing the commission’s work. The following is the full version of the text:]
The 2018 Charter Review Commission voted on and approved amendments to the City Charter which will be submitted to the voters of Saratoga Springs for consideration at the November 6th General Election.
The Commission was established by Mayor Kelly in March of this year for the purpose of reviewing our current City Charter and, specifically, “to find efficiencies and organizational improvements within the current form of government to better serve the people of Saratoga Springs.” Members include elected officials and employees from each City department, and across party lines.
Saratoga Springs operates under a Commission form of government and we have operated under such form since we were incorporated as a City in 1915. We are one of only two cities in the state which utilizes a Commission form of government and nationwide less that 5% operate under such form.
Is the Commission form of government unique? Yes. But, so too is Saratoga Springs; and our uniqueness is a trait which defines us.
Throughout our more than 100 year history as an incorporated City, there have been numerous attempts at changing our form of government, and each and every attempt at change was ultimately rejected by the people. Indeed, the only successful Charter Review Commission our City has had was the 2000 Commission led by its Chair, Harvey Fox. That Commission did not focus on changing our form of government but, rather, on improving our form of government.
The 2018 Charter Review Commission was established with that same focus in mind: to make improvements within the current form of government, because with each and every failed attempt at change, we have missed the opportunity to make the continued and necessary improvements to our City Charter that normally accompanies the passage of time.
To further our effort, the Commission held eighteen meetings, including two workshops and two public forums; submitted and received responses to questionnaires from former Council members and deputies, as well as designated City employees; conducted interviews with numerous individuals relevant to our review; and received extensive public comment and input at meetings, public forums, through written submissions, and in response to both an informal and formal survey.
On the ballot will be two separate questions for the voters to consider:
Shall the Saratoga Springs City Charter be amended as proposed by the 2018 Charter Review Commission?
Shall the Saratoga Springs City Charter be further amended to provide for two (2) additional City Council members whose authority shall be legislative only?
The first question relates to the Commission’s proposed amendments which, in addition to finding efficiencies and organizational improvements, are intended to update obsolete language and improve consistency and readability of the Charter, provide greater clarity of functions, improve transparency and accountability, and increase flexibility of City operations.
The second question relates to a further amendment to include two at-large members of City Council. This proposal still keeps in line with and respects our Commission form of government while at the same time allows for individuals, who might not otherwise have the time or ability to run an entire department, with an opportunity to serve on the Council and participate in the operation of City government.
Ultimately, we believe the final product, unanimously supported by the Commission members, furthers the purpose for which the Commission was established and fulfills the charge placed upon us. I encourage voters to review our proposed updates and amendments to the Charter on the City website, or at the Saratoga Springs Library and Recreation Center where copies have been made available.
Zephyr Teachout has a shot at becoming the Democratic nominee for NYS Attorney General. It is now a matter of who gets out the vote. The primary today, Thursday, September 13, will have a very low turnout. Normally, the institutional Democrats are best at turning out their people because their jobs rely on keeping the usual suspects in power. Candidate Letitia James is being heavily funded by Andrew Cuomo. Ms. Teachout is the only candidate who has refused to take PAC money. Here is a link to the NY Times endorsement of Ms. Teachout: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/19/opinion/zephyr-teachout-new-york-attorney-general.html .
Please help Ms. Teachout prevail by taking the time to get out to vote.
Polls are open from noon until 9 today. You must be a registered Democrat to vote in this primary race.
Polling places for districts 3,4,8,9,and 25 in Saratoga Springs have been moved from the City Center to Ballrooms 1 and 2 in the adjacent Hilton Hotel.