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. 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 carrying a gun in “sensitive” locations like public transit systems, sports venues, churches and businesses that serve alcohol.
The charges came some four months after the late-night altercation 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 he was recovering from the gunshot wounds he sustained that night.
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 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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