Police Abuse

New York AG Wants to Take Power to Prosecute Cops Away From DAs

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Schneiderman with Bratton
New York Attorney General

New York's Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, was first elected in 2010 and the grand jury in the Eric Garner case wasn't the first to fail to indict a New York City police officer accused of killing someone they had targeted. Nevertheless, with the right amount of mainstream media attention, some politicians are willing to jump.

Schneiderman now wants Gov. Andrew Cuomo, another Democrat first elected in 2010, to give him the power to oversee all prosecutions of police officers accused of killing "civilians." In a letter to Cuomo, Schneiderman argues the governor is permitted by state law to place any kind of criminal prosecution under the purview of the Attorney General, bypassing local District Attorneys, and that bills to that effect have been introduced in the state legislature since as early as 1999, to no avail.

"The crisis of confidence is long in the making and has deep roots," wrote Schneiderman, identifying a large part of the problem: "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."

The attorney general stressed that the "majority" of prosecutors are fair in their disposition of such cases and that instead it's the lack of public confidence that's the problem. He therefore asked Cuomo for authority:

to (1) investigate the circumstances surrounding the commission or alleged commission by any police officer or peace officer in the State of any act or acts, committed while the officer is engaged in the performance of his or her official duties, that result in the death of any unarmed person other than a fellow law enforcement officer so engaged: and (2) where warranted, criminally prosecute the officer for such acts as provided in those subdivisions.

Schneiderman writes that he doesn't want to "compromise" any ongoing investigations and so only wants the authority for new cases, and only until the legislature acts on the issue.

No word yet from Cuomo on whether he'll act on Schneiderman's request. A Republican state legislator in Missouri wants to introduce similar legislation which would transfer the power to prosecute cops for on-duty deaths to the attorney general. Cuomo, meanwhile, is also considering a bill that passed the Democrat-controlled legislature handily earlier this year that would give police unions more power to determine the disciplinary regime under which cops fall.

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