hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News September 2018



Police chief admits he misled public about case


Saratoga Springs is facing calls for better oversight of its police force after the city police chief admitted he misled the public about his department’s handling of a 2013 case that led to the death of a black man fleeing from officers.

Police Chief Gregory Veitch told reporters at the time that city police were conducting an internal investigation into the circumstances that left 21-year-old Darryl Mount Jr. mortally injured after an encounter with officers in the early hours of Aug. 31, 2013. Veitch later claimed the investigation had found no misconduct by city officers.

But the Times Union of Albany reported late last month that Veitch now admits the city never conducted any investigation into officers’ handling of the incident. That revelation came in a sworn deposition the police chief gave last year in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Mount’s family.

The encounter that led to Mount’s death began when police said they saw him assault his girlfriend on Caroline Street downtown, causing the woman’s head to hit a brick wall. As officers approached, Mount, whom police had questioned in a separate encounter earlier that night, fled on foot, ducking into an alleyway where a construction project was under way.

Officers chased after him, and police said they eventually found Mount lying unresponsive at the bottom of a 19-foot-tall scaffold. He lived in a comatose state for another nine months but never fully regained consciousness.

Although police said Mount’s injuries were caused by a fall from the scaffold, a forensic pathologist hired by Mount’s family described the injuries, mainly severe wounds to one side of his face, as “trauma sustained by a direct assault.” The pathologist noted “the absence of any injuries to his arms and hands” – injuries he said one would expect to find in an accidental fall.
Last month’s Times Union report on the case was written by Barbara Lombardo, who for many years was executive editor of The Saratogian, the local daily paper in Saratoga Springs. The report quoted from e-mail exchanges between Veitch and a Saratogian reporter who covered the Mount case in 2013 – e-mails in which the police chief explained his department’s supposed internal investigation into the incident – as well as from police records and other documents and testimony collected by lawyers for Mount’s family.

In his deposition in the family’s civil suit, Veitch said he didn’t pursue any investigation into his officers’ handling of the case because “we had no allegations of misconduct and we didn’t have any facts that support an allegation of misconduct.”

In fact, Lombardo reported, a detective sergeant from the city department was presented with allegations of misconduct by Mount’s family when he met with them at Albany Medical Center on the day of the incident That officer testified in a separate deposition that the family’s allegations should have been enough to trigger an investigation under the department’s written policies.
Even before the Times Union published Lombardo’s report on Aug. 26, some citizens had called on the city’s Charter Review Commission to set up an independent civilian review board to handle allegations of police misconduct. But city officials have been resistant to the idea.
In an interview on Aug. 27, Peter Martin, the elected city public safety commissioner who oversees the police department, told the paper a review board “would create another layer of bureaucracy that creates more negatives than positives.”

By the last day of August, Veitch issued a lengthy written statement in which he said he could not discuss some aspects of the case because of the pending civil suit and pleaded for the public’s patience, explaining that “there is another side to the story that simply has not yet been told.” The police chief also said he was trying to protect a victim of domestic violence – Mount’s girlfriend – when he misled the Saratogian reporter about the existence of an internal investigation in 2013.

In other news around the region in August:


Legislator quits campaign, citing racist threats
One of the few African Americans in the Vermont Legislature has abruptly dropped her re-election bid, saying she had been the target of death threats and online harassment from white supremacist groups for more than a year.

Rep. Kiah Morris, D-Bennington, announced Aug. 24 that she was abandoning her bid for a third two-year term. Morris had been running unopposed along with Republican Rep. Mary Morrissey in the two-seat Bennington 2-2 District.

The Bennington Banner reported that Morris’ decision to step down was motivated in part by family health concerns.

But the lawmaker’s report of threats and harassment prompted a strong call to action from her colleagues and others around the state.

Four other local legislators – Morrissey, state Rep. Timothy Corcoran, and state Sens. Dick Sears and Brian Campion – issued a statement Aug. 27 calling on the state attorney general and local authorities to investigate the case.

Later that day, the office of Attorney General T.J. Donovan announced that it would be “working with the Vermont State Police and appropriate computer forensic experts to ensure a thorough and complete investigation of this matter.”

Morris was initially circumspect but offered more details about the harassment in an interview with Vermont Public Radio later in the week.

“We had propaganda being left underneath the door of the Democratic Party,” Morris said. “I had a home invasion, vandalism. Even the woods near my house, where we’d go and walk frequently as a family, had swastikas painted all over the trees.”

The local Democratic organization chose Jim Carroll, a Bennington Select Board member, to replace Morris on the November ballot.

-- Compiled by Fred Daley