Unable to come to an agreement with state legislators over holding police criminally accountable for officer-involved deaths, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced he will use his executive power to temporarily appoint Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as a special prosecutor in such cases, as the legislative session comes to a close.
Cuomo said he will appoint Schneiderman to the role for one year, while he continues to push for additional legislation in the future.
“I don’t believe this is the perfect alternative, but I believe it is the best alternative at this time,” Cuomo stated.
The move has come after grand juries failed to indict officers in the killings of unarmed black men in several states across the country, including New York.
District attorneys in those cases have been criticized for possibly failing to fairly prosecute the officers they continue work with on a daily basis, as well as failing to release the details regarding evidence they’ve presented to those grand juries.
In December 2014, Schneiderman specifically asked the governor to appoint him as a special prosecutor for such cases in New York, after a Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to prosecute white police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of an unarmed black man named Eric Garner.
And, since then, the issue has sparked a nationwide debate, between both advocates and opponents alike, about whether independent prosecutors should be appointed to handle cases concerning officers’ use of excessive force, and allegations of police misconduct.
Rochester City Council President Loretta Scott released the following statement regarding the matter:
“I am optimistic about the announcement from Gov. Cuomo on his appointment of the New York State Attorney General to serve as a special prosecutor in cases alleging that a police officer was involved in the death of an unarmed person. It is fitting that these cases will be overseen by the attorney general, a person elected by the residents of New York State, to ensure that justice will be served for all. Recently, there has been spike in police involved shootings, predominantly in impoverished neighborhoods, with high concentrations of people of color. This has resulted in strained community and police relations in Rochester, New York state, and across our nation. I am encouraged by this much-needed first step taken by our state representatives, and I am hopeful that this will be a catalyst for improved police relations here, and throughout our state.”
Cuomo also said he plans to take executive steps to raise the age of criminal responsibility for 16 and 17-year-olds in the criminal justice system.
“To me, the single most important piece of Raise the Age is getting the 16- and 17-year-olds out of prisons,” he stated. “And, that’s what I can do by executive order.”
New York and North Carolina are currently the only two states in which all youth are prosecuted as adults when they turn 16 years old.