On Sunday afternoon, November 20, Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino and Mayor Ron Kim held a hastily called press conference to discuss the shootings that occurred early Sunday morning, November 20, in downtown Saratoga Springs. At the event, they released videos of the incident in spite of a request from authorities to not release the videos at this time.
As most people now know, an off-duty Vermont deputy sheriff and someone from Utica exchanged gunfire early Sunday morning, November 20, 2022, on Broadway in Saratoga Springs. Police arrived, and when the deputy sheriff refused to drop his weapon, he was shot by Saratoga Springs officers. Here is a link to the WNYT story.
The issues with this press conference called by Kim and Montagnino are emblematic of the problematic leadership in this city in general and of Commissioner Montagnino and Mayor Kim in particular.
Grabbing Headlines at the Expense of Pursuing Justice
At the beginning of the press conference, Commissioner Montagnino made the following statement:
As a result of my reflections of the various questions posed by a number of officials in this investigation, I’ve decided in the interest of transparency to release at this point certain information that some of the authorities would not like to see revealed.Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino
As the New York State Police are in charge of the investigation, it is reasonable to assume that it was they who requested that the city not release the videos of the incident at this time.
It was simply stunning that Commissioner Montagnino and Mayor Kim chose to ignore this request.
To begin with, their act of indiscretion has to have strained the relationship between the city and the state police at a time when the two have the greatest need to cooperate closely. How can the state police comfortably share sensitive information with the city in the future when two city officials have made it clear that they are perfectly capable of ignoring the state police’s concerns in order to publicize whatever they want to the media?
The Abuse of “Transparency”
I fully support the need for the city to have promptly convened a press conference regarding the shooting. People needed to be apprised that there was no ongoing threat to the public associated with the incident. They also needed to be provided with a general description of what occurred in order to limit the damage from the usual trash and confusion on social media.
Unfortunately, Commissioner Montagnino, with the support of Mayor Kim, went way beyond this. They acted recklessly and unilaterally in ignoring the requests of those conducting the investigation, justifying their action by invoking the buzzword “transparency”.
Marginalizing the City’s Chief of Police
With the epidemic of violence in this country, most of us are all too familiar with the talking heads that appear in the media following such incidents.
The normal protocol is to have the chief of police address the press. There are many good reasons for this, but foremost is the professional knowledge and experience of the chief. As the top law enforcement officer, the chief would be sensitive to the dangers of tainting an ongoing investigation by revealing anything that might undermine the identification of witnesses or otherwise create obstacles for the investigators, or risk compromising subsequent prosecutions.
Instead, Montagnino and Kim, who have no law enforcement credentials, monopolized the press conference and marginalized Police Chief Shane Crooks, who spent the press conference off-camera and was never called on to speak.
This Is Not the First Investigation Montagnino Has Undermined
As readers of this blog may recall, earlier this year, Commissioner Montagnino injected himself into the ongoing investigation of an alleged assault incident that involved some youths at a party. He chose to repeatedly go to the media as he has now done again in this case. The coverage resulted in the family of the alleged victim asking that the matter be dropped, halting the investigation.
Past Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen Offers His Thoughts
Chris Mathiesen served three terms as the city’s Public Safety Commissioner. I asked him for his thoughts on how this press conference was handled.
The incident that took place in the Caroline Street nightclub district in the early morning hours of November 20 is one of the most serious acts of violence to have taken place in our City for many years. Apparently, shots were fired by a group of civilians, by an off-duty sheriff deputy, and by three Saratoga Springs police officers. Especially since members of the Saratoga Springs police department were actively involved in the gunfire, it would have been important to have their department superiors conduct the press conference that took place later that day. Instead, the press conference was conducted by Public Safety Commissioner Montagnino, and Mayor Kim, with the chief of police relegated to a minor role.
The police chief and the lieutenants serving under him have years of law enforcement experience. They are in the best position to provide the public an accurate perspective on a police activity such as this. They know well the officers involved, the problems that officers have historically faced on Caroline Street and the guidelines to be followed when an incident of this sort occurs. Other municipalities usually have the police chief or a senior police department spokesperson handle press conferences involving serious crime or police action, for good reason.
It was a good idea to have an initial press conference so soon after the incident. It might have been better to hold off showing graphic video recordings so soon and instead give a verbal summary of what the videos showed. It definitely would have been better to have law enforcement officers conduct the press conference rather than two elected officials with no law enforcement experience. While the Commissioner of Public Safety has important oversight duties regarding the police as well as fire and code enforcement departments, the public needs to feel confident that it is actually the professionals that are in charge of their perspective agencies.
Rushed Release of Video Exposed Police Officer’s Name
In Kim’s and Montagnino’s rush to release the video, the name of one of the officers involved was inadvertently included putting the officer at risk. This is a screenshot from the city website. I have edited this to hide the officer’s name.
This oversight is just another example of this administration’s repeated indifference to details that has alienated much of the city’s employees.
Our Outstanding Police Department
While we still know relatively little of the full details of the shooting incident, based on the videos and the reports, the officers involved showed great courage, discipline, and professionalism.
Their first response to hearing gunshots was to run to the source without hesitation. Upon arriving at the scene, rather than simply firing upon a man standing pointing a gun, they called out eight times for him to drop the gun. Only when he failed to comply did they fire.
In addition, they immediately went to the aid of both wounded persons. Kudos too to the dispatchers and firefighters who also performed their duties that night with exceptional calm and professionalism.
It is worth noting that this kind of discipline in the face of mortal danger begins at the top. Chief Shane Crooks and his lieutenants have established the standards that make this kind of courage, discipline, and sense of service possible.