New York Daily News

December 8, 2014 | 8:00 am


 

New York City prosecutors oppose state attorney general’s request to investigate when cops kill unarmed civilians

 

Eric Schneiderman sent a letter Gov. Cuomo on Monday asking for the standing power to usurp local district attorneys, a measure Schneiderman said is needed to address ‘the current crisis of confidence in our state's criminal justice system’ in the wake of the Eric Garner grand jury decision not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo over Garner's chokehold death.

BY ROCCO PARASCANDOLA, DAREH GREGORIAN, SHAYNA JACOBS, OREN YANIV, KENNETH LOVETT

ALEC TABAK/FOR NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has asked Gov. Cuomo to allow his office the power to investigate cases where cops kill unarmed civilians.
GARY WEPERT/AP
Gov. Cuomo has called for a 'soup to nuts' review of New York's justice system.

Most of New York City’s lead prosecutors and the heads of two of the NYPD’s largest police unions tossed shade on the state attorney general’s request for the power to investigate cases in which police kill unarmed civilians.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent a letter to Gov. Cuomo asking for an immediate executive order to take that power from local district attorneys. Schneiderman said the measure was needed to address "the current crisis of confidence in our state's criminal justice system.”

The request comes after a grand jury last week voted not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the July chokehold death of Eric Garner in Staten Island.

“In New York, and across the country, the promise of equal justice under law has been eroded by a series of tragedies involving the death of unarmed persons as a result of the use of force by law enforcement officers," Schneiderman wrote.

A Cuomo spokeswoman said the governor, who has called for a “soup to nuts” review of the justice system, is reviewing Schneiderman’s request.

Mayor de Blasio called it a “meaningful proposal” that is worth looking into. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton also weighed in. “That’s more of an issue between the DAs and the AG,” Bratton told the Daily News. “I am very confident in the capabilities of the district attorneys I get to work with. We’ll work with anybody.”

But the plan drew a cool response from four of the city’s five district attorneys.

Kenneth Thompson in Brooklyn and Richard Brown in Queens expressed opposition while the Bronx’s Robert Johnson and Manhattan’s Cy Vance had serious reservations.

“As the duly elected district attorney of Brooklyn, I am adamantly opposed to the request by the New York State Attorney General for authority to investigate and potentially prosecute alleged acts of police brutality,” Thompson said. “No one is more committed to ensuring equal justice under the law than I am.”

The Daily News first reported last week that Thompson vowed to empanel a grand jury by the end of the month to weigh possible charges against Peter Liang, a rookie officer who killed an unarmed man in a darkened housing project stairwell Nov. 20. Police officials said the shooting of 28-year-old Akai Gurley was an accident.

Manhattan’s Cyrus Vance Jr. did not address the proposal. But on “Meet the Press” Sunday he said he was “open to discussing” appointing special prosecutors for cases in which cops are suspected of criminal actions. He noted, however, that the arrangement can be problematic because special prosecutors “are accountable to no one.”

A spokesman for Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan, who brought the Garner case before the grand jury, had no comment on Schneiderman’s request.

Surrounded by supportive state and city officials during a press conference in his Manhattan office, Schneiderman argued that many in minority communities have had their faith in the justice shaken by the recent decisions by grand juries not to indict police in the deaths of Garner and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

"The question in these difficult cases is not whether a local prosecutor, including one with understandably close ties to his or her fellow local law enforcement officers, is capable of setting aside any personal biases in deciding whether, or how vigorously, to pursue the case," Schneiderman wrote.

"Rather, the question is whether there is public confidence that justice has been served, especially in cases where homicide or other serious charges against the accused officer are not pursued or are dismissed prior to a trial by jury."

Union leaders weren’t buying it.

“It’s an insult to the intelligence and the integrity of every prosecutor in the state of New York, as well as every grand juror who examined the facts and the evidence,” said Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives Endowment Association.

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association endorsed Schneiderman for state attorney general in October. On Monday, the union president Pat Lynch said Schneiderman’s request was all wrong.

“There is absolutely no reason to alter the existing system because if the rule of law and rule of evidence as they stand in the State of New York are followed dispassionately and honestly, then the outcome will be right and just regardless of what office handles a case,” he said.

JOE MARINO/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Protests throughout the city — and the world — broke out in the wake of the grand jury’s decision to not indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo.

Schneiderman noted that similar proposals to require special prosecutors to handle cases in which cops kill unarmed civilians have been around for years in the state Legislature but never enacted. He indicated an executive order by Cuomo might put pressure on the lawmakers to act.

The Daily News reported Monday that Senate Republicans have traditionally opposed requiring special prosecutors for police brutality cases.

To avoid compromising ongoing federal, state or local investigations, Schneiderman asks that the executive order cover only cases that occur after the order is signed.

The order would automatically expire if the Legislature acts on reform legislation.

The News reported Monday that indictments of cops in fatalities are rare. In the past 15 years, police have been indicted in only four cases, and one of those indictments was later dismissed.

With Jennifer Fermino