ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A Vermont lawman who was shot multiple times by police responding to gunfire in the historic center of Saratoga Springs has been indicted on charges including attempted murder and possessing a firearm in a “sensitive location.”
Vito Caselnova, a sheriff’s deputy in Rutland County, Vermont, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Tuesday.
The charges came more than four months after a chaotic sidewalk brawl and series of gunshots left three people, including the deputy, wounded, and questions about who shot who. Three other men involved in the fight — one of whom police initially accused of also firing a gun — were charged only with throwing punches.
Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen said the decision to levy the most serious charges against Caselnova, who was off-duty at the time of the incident, was made by a grand jury. In a press statement, she criticized the city’s public safety commissioner and mayor for their initial account of how the violence unfolded, calling it “a narrative based on speculation, not evidence.”
Caselnova’s lawyer, Greg Teresi, maintained his client was innocent. “We’re still of the opinion that he’s a victim of this case. He had the authority under New York State law to use deadly physical force when faced with deadly physical force,” Teresi told The Associated Press.
Caselnova, who lives in Glen Falls, New York, was with his girlfriend on Nov. 20 when he visited Saratoga Springs, a college town known for its horse racing, restaurants and a vibrant nightlife. He brought his gun with him, authorities said, despite a new state law barring people from bringing firearms into many different types of “sensitive places,” including establishments where alcohol is served.
In their initial account, police said the deputy had gotten into a barroom argument with a group of men that spilled into the street, and that he and another man had pulled out guns and started shooting. One man, Alexander Colon, 28, of Utica, suffered a gunshot wound that prosecutors now say was fired by Caselnova.
Saratoga Springs police on the scene said they opened fire when Caselnova, who was in civilian clothing, did not drop his weapon. The deputy was hit several times but survived, as did Colon, local police said. Caselnova’s girlfriend was wounded by a stray bullet fired by the responding police officers.
After the grand jury investigation, however, Colon was only charged with attempted assault, a misdemeanor. Two other men from Utica were also charged with misdemeanor attempted assault. The grand jury didn’t accuse any of those men of having a gun or firing one.
Colon’s attorney, Anthony LaFache, didn’t immediately return a phone message Wednesday.
Video from a street camera showed people fighting that night on the sidewalk, then scattering.
Caselnova, 25, faces an eight-count indictment that in addition to attempted murder includes assault, reckless endangerment, menacing and harassment.
The sensitive location charge is a felony under New York’s gun laws, which were rewritten last summer after a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling and continue to be challenged in federal courts. The new rules that make it illegal to carry a firearm inside a place that serves alcohol are the subject of a court challenge, but are still in effect.
“We’re in the process of doing research on how the decisions that were made with those federal court challenges impact that count of the indictment,” Teresi said.
Caselnova was released on $50,000 bail, his lawyer said. Phone messages left for the Rutland County Sheriff’s Office were not immediately returned.
Maysoon Khan is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Maysoon Khan on Twitter.