Response to the NYS Attorney General Report

On behalf of the Capital District Democratic Socialists of America, we are happy to finally see the release of the Attorney General’s investigation into the violations of the civil rights of Black Lives Matter activists and protestors by the Saratoga Springs Police Department and Saratoga Springs city officials. After almost 3 years of waiting for answers, the report authenticates that Saratoga police and politicians lied to mislead the public about Saratoga BLM and their supporters, and they intentionally deprived them of their civil rights.

The 30 page report details repeated calls from the city government and the Saratoga Springs Police Department to arrest BLM activists when protestors demonstrated in the city. Assistant Police Chief Catone threatened to pull out every single connection his family has made over the last 130 years and stop BLM’s narrative in response to activists exercising their civil rights. The Attorney General’s investigation did not find the protests to be unlawful in any ways, the report shows that Saratoga BLM repeatedly complied with police orders during their protests.

Despite this, protestors were met with, according to the Attorney General, “horse-mounted police, dozens of officers in riot gear, and an armored vehicle designed for combat in Iraq.” The report shows that officers from various agencies fired pepper balls, shoved, tackled, arrested, and forcibly dispersed protesters.

The results of the Attorney General’s investigation dispels the rumor that Saratoga BLM protesters blocked a man from getting heart medication. This rumor was created when the SSPD Police Chief assigned a Sergeant to issue charges on 6 protesters for stopping a car with a passenger who allegedly needed medication. The charging officer was selected for this job because he was a “go-to guy who would not push against orders”. This fabrication led to warrants being issued. Members of the community were arrested based on lies. Alex Patterson was arrested at work. TJ Sangare was pulled from college and arrested. The SSPD published the names of all of these individuals, doing untold damage to their futures, based on a lie coming from the highest powers in our city government and the Police Department.

The perpetuation of these accusations have spread throughout our community, damaging the involved groups, publically named individuals, and the movement as a whole. It is no surprise that after these lies have been shared as truth by elected officials, there has been increased tension in our community, including harassment and threats aimed at the organizers of Saratoga BLM, both inside and outside of City Council meetings.

The AG’s report concluded that SSPD’s actions harmed the public. It uncovered that Saratoga Springs had an official policy of retaliating against Saratoga BLM protesters. The SSPD brought charges against protesters based on unsupported evidence, initiated a CPS referral without cause, and violated their own policies. The SSPD and city failed to investigate and penalize officer misconduct.

Our question is, what stops this from happening again? The police went through training in March of 2021 to learn how to properly respond to protests. The tiered approach that the police were trained in resulted in the abuse of power during the July 14, 2021 protest. The “bloodlust” for arrest came from the highest level of the city government and officers with decades of experience. Since 2021, the police budget has continued to steadily increase. Elected officials failed to respond to subpoenas while our community foots their legal bills. Not only has the city refused to implement changes to address the problems within the police force, the retaliatory targeting of activists has continued under consecutive administrations.

The Public Safety Commissioner following Robin Dalton, Jim Montagnino, went on to charge both Chandler Hickenbottom and Lex Figuereo with crimes for speaking out of turn at city council meetings. The accusations from the previous administration made Saratoga BLM a convenient scapegoat for Montagnino’s failure to address police misconduct. The initial response to the AG’s report from current Public Safety Commissioner Tim Coll was not one of introspection, but one of deflection. Instead of considering how his administration can be better, he immediately tried to discredit the investigation in the media before the report went public.

The Attorney General’s report affirms what Saratoga BLM has been telling us for a long time. Instead of discrediting their lived experiences, the City of Saratoga Springs needs to address the legacy of institutionalized racism. We can not move forward until amends are made and the roots of issues are addressed. The recommendations for remediation listed in the Attorney General’s report are a good place to start, but they do not go far enough.