The office of the District Attorney is a powerful one. As will be discussed below, complaints by citizens over the death of Daryll Mount were sent to the New York State Attorney General who in turn referred them to the DA back in 2013. The DA has the power even today to select from a number of options to see that an independent review is carried out. Instead, it appears that the referrals by the Attorney General fell into a black hole.
Several weeks ago Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton was kind enough to provide me with the documents below. They represent the 2013 correspondence from the then-Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, to the Saratoga County District Attorney’s office.
According to the documents the Attorney General received quite a number of complaints regarding the Saratoga Springs Police Department. Many of these complaints related to the Darryl Mount incident. As the readers of this blog know, Mr. Mount was mortally hurt following a police chase in Saratoga Springs in the fall of 2013.
The Attorney General referred all of these complaints to James Murphy III. Mr. Murphy had been the Saratoga District Attorney for decades. However, at the time these referrals were made, Mr. Murphy had left the DA’s office and become a New York State judge.
Karen Heggen had been Judge Murphy’s assistant at the District Attorney’s office and with his leaving she became “acting” DA. She subsequently was elected District Attorney and is currently serving in this office. She would have been responsible for addressing the referrals made to her office by the Attorney General.
Each complaint had an accompanying cover letter. The letter requested that the DA’s office take “…whatever action you deem appropriate.”
What If Anything Did The District Attorney Do In Response To the Attorney General’s Referrals?
I was interested in learning if there had been any effort by any public institution to initiate an independent investigation of the Darryl Mount case. To that end, I FOILed the city with the following request:
“This FOIL is to request all correspondence between the city and other public institutions requesting that an independent investigation into the death of Darryl Mount.”
Unfortunately, while the city acknowledged that they do have documents pertaining to my request, they denied me access citing “…they pertain to inter-agency and intra-agency documents that contain opinions, advice, recommendations, etc. which may be withheld pursuant to Public Officers Law 87(2)(g).”
Subsequent to this denial I wrote to Saratoga County DA Karen Heggen as follows:
In October of 2013 Eric Schneiderman, then the attorney general, referred to your office complaints about the troubling circumstances of Darryl Mount’s injury and subsequent death.
Do you recall how you responded to these referrals?Email from John Kaufmann to Karen Heggen
So far Ms. Heggen has not responded.
Karen Heggen Is The Critical Player In Any Independent Investigation
This all led me on a hunt for understanding what role the District Attorney had in this matter. I explored the issue by searching the web and I reached out to my network of attorneys.
First, my legal contacts all observed that an incident like Mount’s required an independent investigation. Asking an institution like a police force to investigate itself was problematic. At a minimum, the optics would ensure what we have seen, that a cloud would hang over the institution.
They also explained to me that not only did the District Attorney have the tools to pursue an investigation at the time, but that there is no statute of limitations keeping Ms. Heggen from acting even today.
She has three basic options:
First, Ms. Heggen could request that the New York State Police investigate how the Saratoga Springs Police Department handled all the aspects of the Mount case. Their mission would not be to determine the potential criminal culpability of the officers involved but to establish whether there were any improprieties in the entire affair.
Second, Ms. Heggen could impanel a grand jury to investigate the entire case. Grand juries meets in secret. They can, however, issue a report to the public regarding their findings. The grand jury could potentially issue an indictment. They could also report on any problems they found with the handling of the case and issue recommendations for corrective action.
Finally, Ms. Heggen could refer the issue back to the Attorney General citing a lack of resources in her office to properly handle this. The Attorney General has considerable resources to pursue all this.
The central issue is that Ms. Heggen, as the Saratoga County District Attorney, is key to any independent review.
It is frustrating and disturbing that the Attorney General referred this sensitive case to Ms. Heggen’s office and the public has no idea what if anything she has done.
Our City Council should insist that District Attorney Heggen publically disclose what actions she took as a result of receiving the referrals from the Attorney General. If Ms. Heggen refuses to disclose what happened, the City Council should ask the Attorney General to take action.
The fact that the family of Daryll Mount is suing the city is no excuse for not having an independent body carry out a rigorous review.
Let me be clear, I have no idea how Darryl Mount died. I find it troubling that many of those protesting assume that he was murdered by the police. What is available to the public currently is insufficient to draw any final conclusions.
It is axiomatic that there should be an independent investigation. Ms. Heggen has the authority to pursue all this and it is my hope that she will rise to the occasion and at a minimum tell the public what she has done so far. Hopefully, she will recognize that justice means a credible and rigorous pursuit of all the facts by her office.