BLM protesters say Saratoga police searched car without cause

BLM protesters say Saratoga police searched car without cause

Photo of Wendy Liberatore

SARATOGA SPRINGS – A young Black couple who established the city's Free Fridge and participated in Wednesday's Black Lives Matter march said they were pursued by city police after leaving the protest.

College students Marcus Filien and Alexus Brown said on Monday at a Saratoga BLM press conference on the steps of City Hall that they were followed in their car last week by two officers in a Saratoga Springs police car. Police eventually pulled the couple over and then told them to step out of the vehicle without telling them why they were stopped. The police then searched the vehicle.

When asked Monday why Filien and Brown were stopped, Saratoga police would only say that the stop was part of an “ongoing criminal investigation into illegal weapon possession” and that the police had “intel from undercover officers” at the rally that pointed to the couple having weapons.

Police, however, found no weapons after their search.

“It was terrifying,” said Filien, a Cornell University student who was driving. “They gave us no reason why they followed us and pulled us over.”

Brown said police followed them from Woodlawn Avenue, and then signaled to pull over on a dark area of Route 9. Brown said they didn't stop there, but continued until they reached Brown's mother’s driveway about 100 feet down the road where Brown said they felt safer. 

“We were scared,” said Brown. “(Filien) told the Saratoga Springs police he never had a bad encounter with police. They made sure to change that….I find it disgusting that they see a Black man carrying a bag and they assume there is a weapon in it.”

Filien, who is 21 and plays basketball for the Cornell team, said he complied with all of the police’s commands and that they wanted to look into a paper bag he had that had two new gas masks, water bottles, a pair of safety goggles and Brown’s rain jacket inside. They also looked around the drivers’ seat and in the trunk.

Filien is the son of Pat Filien, who recently died of COVID-19 and was a former coach for the University of Albany basketball team. Filien said since his father's death, he suffers from anxiety and that the stop triggered a panic attack.

However, both he and Brown said they will continue to march with Saratoga BLM. The march in downtown Wednesday night was responded to by police outfitted in tactical gear, who arrested five people after officers made a line to get protesters off Broadway.

When asked about the couple being pulled over after the march, Saratoga Springs police spokesman Lt. Robert Jillson said that he was unfamiliar with the stop, but said police do not single out Black drivers.

“We don’t pull over based on race or color,” Jillson said. “We would have had a nexus of what was going on at the protest. It wasn’t just a random driving while Black…We are not harassing them, but if we see patterns of people going back and forth to vehicles, it is concerning. If it was two white people, we’d keep an eye on those things. It’s not indiscriminate.”

Tensions between BLM and city police have been high since Assistant Chief John Catone, speaking at a June 28 press conference, blamed racial justice advocates and Albany “gangs” for a large fight on Caroline Street in which a man was stabbed, shots were fired and a ghost gun was recovered.

“You are either with us or you're not," Catone said at that press conference. "If you are not, you are part of the problem.” He also said he would use his family’s 130-plus-year history in the city "to stop (the) narrative” that the police are racists.

Last week, Catone attempted to soften his words by releasing a statement that read "My comments were not meant to cast blame or serve as a threat. My comments were meant as a call upon every member of this community to work together."

No arrests have been made in the Caroline Street brawl and stabbing. Jillson said the investigation is going “quiet well. … We are making very good headway.” 

He also walked back Catone’s Albany “gangs” comment saying that “there is still a nexus there with gangs from the Tri-City area, not to just pick on Albany.”

Local BLM leader Lexis Figuereo said that Black Lives Matter will continue to protest in the city until the police and city officials take some accountability for the toxic situation between police and protesters. In addition to a full apology from Catone, his group would like to see a Civilian Review Board with subpoena power and an independent investigation into the death of Darryl Mount, a 21-year-old biracial man who died in 2014 after he was pursued by city police.

“We are the public and we don’t feel safe," Figuereo said. 

At the Monday press conference, Figuereo said protesters have experienced death threats. After the press conference, comments on Figuereo's Facebook page contained racial slurs that included calling his group "20 pickaninnys (sic) by 19 fathers" and the n-word.

Meanwhile, he said, his group will show up to Tuesday’s City Council meeting to voice their anger over what they say is over policing at their protests, and Mayor Meg Kelly's refusal to speak to protesters or address their concerns.

Brown said she wants to go further, demanding the resignation of Catone and Commissioner of Public Safety Robin Dalton, whom she blames for the recent tensions between police and BLM protesters.

“I am also calling for the suspension of Robin Dalton’s campaign for mayor,” Brown said. “It’s disgusting. They are disgusting."

Dalton did not respond to a Times Union request for comment.