In Test of N.Y. Gun Law, Sheriff’s Deputy Accused of Attempted Murder
The chaotic scene, captured by a police officer’s body-worn camera, lasts less than 30 seconds. The officer, arm extended and ready to fire, shoves a bystander out of the way and rounds a corner onto a darkened street as a half-dozen shots ring out.
“Put the gun down,” the officer yells, moving toward an armed man and his female companion in the near distance. “Gun down. Drop the gun. Drop the gun. Drop the gun.”
The man, an off-duty Vermont deputy sheriff, does not obey, and another volley of gunfire — this one from police weapons — erupts. The man, shot several times, and the woman, grazed by a bullet, drop to the sidewalk, and other officers enter the frame. Someone screams nearby.
The frantic events followed a 3 a.m. gunfight between the deputy sheriff, Vito Caselnova, and a second man in downtown Saratoga Springs, N.Y., a college town with a lively bar scene. On Tuesday, Deputy Caselnova was charged with attempted murder and other crimes as a result of the episode.
In what appears to be a first, he was also charged with violating a contentious provision of New York’s revised gun law that prohibits the carrying of a gun in “sensitive” locations like public transit systems, sports venues, churches and businesses that serve alcohol.
Understand the U.S. Supreme Court’s Term
A race to the right. After a series of judicial bombshells in June that included eliminating the right to abortion, a Supreme Court dominated by conservatives returned to the bench in October — and there are few signs that the court’s rightward shift is slowing. Here’s a closer look at the term:
Affirmative action. The marquee cases of the term are challenges to the race-conscious admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina. While the court has repeatedly upheld affirmative-action programs, a six-justice conservative supermajority may put more than 40 years of precedent at risk.
Voting rights. The role race may play in government decision-making also figures in a case that is a challenge under the Voting Rights Act to an Alabama electoral map that a lower court had said diluted the power of Black voters. The case is a major new test of the Voting Rights Act in a court that has gradually limited the law’s reach in other contexts.
Discrimination against gay couples. The justices heard an appeal from a web designer who objects to providing services for same-sex marriages in a case that pits claims of religious freedom against laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. The court last considered the issue in 2018 in a similar dispute, but failed to yield a definitive ruling.
Tech companies’ legal shield. The court is reviewing a sweeping law that prevents tech companies such as Facebook and Google from being held responsible for the content posted on their site. The case could have potentially seismic ramifications for social media platforms and alter the very structure of the internet.
Student loan cancellation challenges. The justices heard arguments about President Biden’s plan to forgive an estimated $400 billion in federal student loan debt. Conservative states have called the plan an abuse of executive authority. The court is exploring whether the states are even entitled to sue.
The charges came some four months after the early Sunday altercation on Nov. 20 left three people, including Deputy Caselnova, of the Rutland County Sheriff’s Office, and his girlfriend, with gun wounds. Three other men who were involved in the fight — including one, Alexander Colon, who had a gun that night — were charged with attempted assault. None of the three were charged with gun crimes.
Deputy Caselnova, 25, pleaded not guilty at an arraignment on Tuesday and was released on bail. His lawyer, Gregory J. Teresi, said in an interview on Thursday that his client was acting in self-defense and was “justified in the force he used under New York State law.”
“We look forward to our day in court, to going before a jury so we can vindicate my client,” he said.
As to the charge of possessing a gun in a sensitive location, Mr. Teresi said he was examining how pending federal litigation over the provision and other aspects of the revised state gun law might affect the case against Deputy Caselnova.
Karen A. Heggen, the Saratoga County district attorney, declined to comment on specifics of the case. She said her office’s research suggested that the special-location provision had not previously been applied since its adoption last year.
It was not clear what led to the exchange of gunfire that prompted the police to confront Deputy Caselnova, who lives in Glens Falls, N.Y., except that a dispute between him and a group of people had escalated into a brawl. Mr. Teresi said his client was recovering from the gunshot wounds he sustained that night.
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Mr. Colon’s lawyer, Anthony LaFache, praised how Ms. Heggen’s office had handled the case.
“They didn’t rush to judgment,” he said.
David J. Fox, the Rutland County sheriff, did not respond to calls seeking information about Deputy Caselnova’s status with the department. Sheriff Fox told the online publication VTDigger in November that Deputy Caselnova was a part-time employee who had joined the department in 2019 and had been placed on administrative leave as a result of the shooting episode. The gun he had in Saratoga Springs was not his service weapon, the sheriff said.
The sensitive-location measure was among the changes New York lawmakers approved last year after the Supreme Court struck down the state’s old law in a ruling that upended firearm regulation in the United States even as the country grapples with persistent gun violence.
New York’s old law, which required those seeking permits to carry guns in public to show they had a heightened need to defend themselves, stood for more than 100 years. But Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the court’s opinion, said that carrying guns was a constitutional right that did not need to be justified by showing a special need.
No longer able to impose the previous standard, New York revised its law to limit where guns can be carried. The new law also calls for training courses and a “good moral character test,” for those applying for permits to carry guns in public.
The revised law is the subject of a number of lawsuits brought by gun-rights advocates, some of which focus on the special-location provision. Federal judges have declared the measure unconstitutional in several rulings that are under appeal. The Supreme Court ruled in January that New York could continue to enforce the revised law while litigation over it continues.
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