Schneiderman Wants Power To Probe Deaths By Police
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman formally requested on Monday the “interim” power to investigate and pursue deaths of unarmed civilians by police officers, a move that requires approval from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The power to investigate such cases would be a temporary move and be “prospective” to future incidents and not cover the circumstances surrounding the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man killed after he was put in a chokehold by a police officer.
Instead, Schneiderman said at a news conference in New York City that the move would apply some pressure to Albany lawmakers potentially opposed to criminal justice reforms as laid out by Cuomo last week.
Senate Republicans are signaling opposition to potential changes to the grand jury procedure such as potential appointments of special prosecutors in certain cases as well as enhanced transparency.
“This crisis of confidence is long in the making and has deep roots. But it is not a problem without a solution,” Schneiderman wrote in a letter sent to Cuomo, dated Monday. “A common thread in many of these cases is the belief of the victim’s family and others that the investigation of the death, and the decision whether to prosecute, have been improperly and unfairly influenced by the close working relationship between the county District Attorney and the police officers he or she works with and depends on every day. It is understandable that many New Yorkers feel that it is unfair to charge a local District Attorney with the task of investigating and prosecuting those officers when they are accused of a serious crime committed in the course of their duties.”
The attorney general’s request to be granted the power to investigate deaths comes after elected officials and advocates have pointed to potential conflicts of interest by Staten Island prosecutors in the grand jury proceedings.
Schneiderman was joined at a news conference flanked by a host of New York City elected officials, including Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James.
The attorney general stressed that his request to probe deaths caused by police officers of unarmed civilians was not meant as a criticism of either district attorneys or law enforcement.
“This is not anti-DA, this is certainly not anti-NYPD,” Schneiderman said. “I have the highest respect for them.”
He added that Staten Island District Dan Donovan, whose office presented evidence to the grand jury that ultimately declined to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in Garner’s death, is “a friend.” Donovan and Schneiderman ran against each other for attorney general in 2010.
The request also comes after Cuomo declined over the summer to appoint a special prosecutor in the Garner case despite calls from minority lawmakers in new York City.
The attorney general today said his request was aimed at addressing — and calling attention to — the shortcomings in the current grand jury procedures.
“There is a problem that the state of the law even where DAs are not allowed to request that somebody replace them,” Schneiderman said.
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