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Editorial: Spa oversight board would assure public

Tuesday, June 24, 2014
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On August 31, 2013, Malta resident Darryl Mount Jr. fell from a wobbly two-story-high scaffolding while running away from Saratoga Springs Police after they witnessed him assaulting his girlfriend.

The 22-year-old died last month after several months in a coma.

Mount’s family and others have accused police of causing his death and of covering up their role in it.

Until last week, police had only offered denials of their culpability. On Friday, they did what they should have done months ago and released documentation relating to their investigation, including incident reports, Taser records, radio transmissions between police and witness statements.

The department's repeated denials of police brutality — combined with its decision not to release supporting evidence until the investigation was complete — only stirred speculation of a cover-up.

That's why the city of Saratoga Springs needs to establish an independent civilian review board — similar to those in Schenectady, Albany and other cities — to review police conduct and evaluate whether proper procedures have been followed in incidents such as this.

Just knowing that there would be an independent review of the incident could have quieted the negative speculation while the investigation took place.

But since police, in essence, were investigating themselves, it bred an atmosphere of distrust. Even if the police did nothing wrong, there remains speculation in the community that justice hasn't been served.

Had an independent analysis been made, police might have been cleared of wrongdoing months ago, sparing themselves the stain on their reputation and city taxpayers the potential legal culpability of a civil suit.

Citizen review boards aren't perfect solutions. Schenectady's board, for instance, for months had trouble filling vacancies, and therefore couldn't even meet. There also will always be questions about the veracity of the members, whether they're appointed by city officials or appointed by independent, interested parties. And even when they do meet and when they do follow the proper procedures, the boards don't always satisfy certain members of the public who will only be sated by a guilty verdict stemming from the accusations.

Still, any body that takes investigations of police misconduct out of the police department's hands creates an element of trust that is otherwise lacking.

This incident most of all demonstrates that Saratoga Springs officials need to create such an organization — for the protection of the city, its police and its citizens.

 
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