SARATOGA COUNTY, N.Y. (News10)-Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen is defending her stance on speaking publicly about pending cases. For the first time she is responding to a previous accusation of favoritism as well as criticism from Saratoga Springs officials who she tried to prevent from talking about an officer-involved shooting.
The accusations began last year, during the case against Jonathan Aronson charged with sexually abusing a young girl. At the time, Karen Heggen’s opponent in her bid for reelection accused the Saratoga County District Attorney of allowing the case to linger for months due to favoritism, something Heggen flatly denies, adding that she did not know Aronson personally, nor his family. She told News10’s Anya Tucker that the case had been a complicated one, with the child coming forward months after the assault. The DA says she refused to talk publicly about the case, or any other pending cases for that matter, until it was adjudicated. Last week Aronson was sentenced to 3 and a half years. “I have an ethical obligation not to be talking about cases in the public,” said Heggen. “To me, ethics are paramount and foremost and that’s just who I am.”
She has also been the target of criticism for trying to suppress leaks in another high-profile case, the November officer-involved shooting involving an off-duty Vermont Sheriff’s deputy.
Everyone survived, but the investigation had just begun when the mayor and public safety commissioner held a press conference sharing details on the case. The city officials have told News10 that the flow of information was intended to maintain transparency. Heggen told Anya that she had asked the mayor and commissioner to remain silent prior to their initial press conference. “It was 10 hours after the incident had occurred. It was a situation where the crime scene was still being processed.”
However, the unique form of government in Saratoga Springs does allow for Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino to speak on pending cases. Heggen explained the situation as one where an elected official has access to ongoing evidentiary gathering matters and has the ability to make a determination to release or not release information.
But Heggen says it has impacted the case negatively, although she would not go into detail as to exactly how. Anya asked if that was one of the reasons why there haven’t been any charges filed yet. “Again, I am bound by my ethics, not to talk about the specifics of that case,” Heggen responded.
The DA says she is waiting on a judge’s decision (a writ of prohibition) to prohibit the flow of information going forward. She says she is leaving the decision regarding charges up to the grand jury. News10 reached out to the Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner for comment, this was his response: “As I said in the press conference on 11/20, there must be openness and transparency or speculation and conspiracy theories fill the vacuum. Within hours of the 11/20 incident there were allegations on social media of a racially motivated attack. It was important to show exactly what happened in order to dispel the rumors. What Ms. Heggen fails to mention is that there was nothing here that compromised the investigation. This wasn’t a “whodunnit.” Both combatants were taken to the hospital and clearly identified.
Trust in law enforcement is at an all-time low nationwide. Here in Saratoga Springs there are still people who believe the myth that Darryl Mount was murdered by the police despite voluminous evidence to the contrary. I firmly believe that if the authorities had been open and transparent at that time, there would have been no opportunity for speculation and falsehoods to take hold.
Our officers are equipped with body cameras so that they can be accountable to the public. There’s no accountability if the public has to wait months or even years for the truth to come out. Unless there is a clear reason for withholding information from the public (for example, if undercover operatives are infiltrating organized crime), I will exercise discretion in favor of openness.”