Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen ripped into Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino for his interference in the investigation of a fight involving four teenagers, one of whom was a person of color. This is a link to her statement.
Commissioner Montagnino’s public insertion into an active, on-going investigation brought about a spin and dissemination of misinformation regarding the case. He chose to bring the case to the court of public opinion, not a court of law. In doing so, he exposed those involved to inappropriate scrutiny and shined a spotlight of social media commentary upon a purported victim. Those actions fly in the face of the concept that justice should be blind so that justice is delivered in a fair and unbiased manner. With the victim and their family recently informing the SSPD that they are requesting the case be closed without further law enforcement action, the sad result of the Commissioner’s public actions is that all involved have been subject to spin, speculation and ridicule.Karen Heggen
At the April 5, 2022, City Council meeting, Montagnino responded to Heggen.
Apparently, there is a New York State database where local police departments record the disposition of criminal cases. Montagnino held up a piece of paper at the meeting that he said showed that the Saratoga Springs Police Department had used this system to record that the controversial case was “closed” on March 1, 2022.
Montagnino claimed that this document established that he was not guilty of interfering with “an ongoing investigation” when he repeatedly talked about the case in TV appearances and in the newspapers because, according to the document he displayed, the case had been closed over a month ago.
By asserting his innocence based on this document, however, Montagnino simply raised more questions about his own credibility.
The illegal drinking party where one of the participants was injured took place on the weekend of Saturday, February 27. Montagnino’s document would mean that someone reported the case closed the Tuesday following the incident.
Clearly, however, the investigation of the incident continued well beyond March 1. We know that it was late March when Montagnino summoned the lieutenant in charge of the investigation and ordered her to charge one of the youths with assault, a misdemeanor rather than harassment, a violation. If the case were indeed closed as Montagnino now asserts, why was he having this conversation with the lieutenant in late March?
It is also important to note that in all his appearances in the media, Montagnino never mentioned that the case had been closed. Further, the Police Department consistently responded that they could not discuss an ongoing case when they were contacted by the media.
In fact, this is really what makes this story truly disturbing. Montagnino knew that he could cherry-pick from the events to attack his own department because they could not defend themselves if they were to maintain the very professional standards highlighted by DA Heggen. When asked about the investigation all they could say was that it was “ongoing.”
A press with more resources and time might ask about Montagnino’s apparent contradictions. For instance, if the case indeed was recorded as closed who ordered this? Was the recording of the case as closed an error? I will be foiling for this document, but it will be at least five weeks before I can get a response.
A Chilling Attack On His Own Chief of Police
A Times Union April 5, 2022, story about Heggen’s accusations and Montagnino’s response contains a number of troubling statements.
We already know that Montagnino, to say it generously, has regularly misrepresented events to the media by asserting repeatedly for instance that he intervened in this case because the police had refused to bring charges when clearly his lieutenant was recommending a charge, just one he wasn’t happy with.
It is also deeply disturbing that he has presented to the public the narrative that the youth of color was attacked by a “gang.” This was a party of very affluent youth at one of their homes. For Montagnino to gin this up as a gang assault shows just how manipulative he is with the “facts.”
I can share with the readers my experience with the Commissioner. He does not respond to any questions that raise doubts about his actions. He is the gatekeeper of his own story.
In this latest article, Montagnino not only adds more to the list of his inconsistencies, distortions, and outright incorrect information, but he also makes a truly disturbing remark about his Police Chief, Shane Crooks.
Montagnino said Heggen and Chief Shane Crooks, who told the Times Union on Monday that the investigation is ongoing, are “trying to rewrite history.”Times Union April 5, 2022
Given that in the last month, Montagnino has demoted one lieutenant and is charging another lieutenant with offenses that could result in her termination, this all has the feel of a purge.
Commissioner of Finance Speaks Up for the Humanity of the Police
At the April 5, meeting of the City Council, one of the speakers from Black Lives Matter referred to the police as subhuman. Much to her credit, Commissioner of Finance, Minita Sanghvi, gently offered a response. Ms. Sanghvi is an openly gay woman of color. She observed that no one is subhuman and that this kind of language is problematic.
Members of the Black Lives Matter responded with a volley of shouts. Efforts by Mayor Ron Kim to quiet them so Commissioner Sanghvi could finish her remarks were unsuccessful. None of the other members of the Council offered their support to Commissioner Sanghvi, and Mayor Kim formally shut down the public comment period in order to re-establish order.
Much credit should be given to Commissioner Sanghvi. If you have experienced these meetings, it was not surprising that her remarks made her the subject of attack and she deserves credit for bravely subjecting herself to this abuse in order to call for respect and decency.