Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Internal investigation? What internal investigation?

In 2015, the family of Darryl Mount, Jr., filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Saratoga Springs, NY, then Public Safety commissioner Christian Mathiesen and seven police officers, including the police chief, Gregory Veitch.

In August 2013 Mr. Mount was running from the police in downtown Saratoga Springs when police approached him after seeing him assault his girlfriend outside of a bar. He ended up at the bottom of a 19 foot scaffold with injuries that would prove to be fatal. He was taken to the hospital in a coma from which he never awoke.

Chief Veitch and Mr. Mathiesen denied there was any validity to the family's claims that the injuries had been inflicted by the police. In fact, Chief Veitch told the public that the department's own internal investigation concluded that there had been no police misconduct.

So far the tale is unremarkable. A black man dies in an encounter with the police. The police conduct an internal investigation. No one crosses the thin blue line and the officers in question are cleared. The DA's office is put on notice that the ball's in their court now.

The only problem is, there was never an internal police investigation conducted to determine whether there were any acts of police misconduct that night. There was a police investigation conducted - to determine whether Mr. Mount should be charged with attempted assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

We know there was no internal investigation conducted into the incident because Chief Veitch admitted that he lied to the press in a sworn deposition taken pursuant to the wrongful death suit. The lawsuit also turned up an e-mail in which Chief Veitch said it was important to give he public the impression that the police department was concerned with the allegations - even though they weren't.

When asked why he didn't conduct an investigation, Chief Veitch claimed it was because no one had alleged any incident of police misconduct. That is, except for family members at the hospital who made the allegations to Det. Tim Sicko. Det. Sicko, in turn, relayed the allegations to Chief Veitch.

Chief Veitch, despite his department's own General Order Section 25, failed to conduct an internal affairs review within 45 days of the allegations. Famed forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht reviewed the medical records, X-rays and photographs and came to the conclusion that Mr. Mount's injuries were more consistent with being beaten than falling from a scaffold. The forensic medical examiner used by local police, Dr. Michael Sikirica, issued a report supporting the police department's claims of no misconduct after reviewing statements from various witnesses and medical records - he never reviewed the photographs of Mr. Mount's injuries nor the actual X-rays or CAT scans.

This case illustrates why some type of external review board is necessary for investigating allegations of police misconduct. Any such board must have subpoena power to compel the production of witnesses and documents. The system in Saratoga Springs didn't fail. It did exactly what it was supposed to do - provide cover for the police. Only this time we got a peak behind the curtain.

h/t Scott Greenfield

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