New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has requested from Gov. Andrew Cuomo the authority to investigate and, if necessary, prosecute cases involving unarmed civilians killed by police officers, according to a press release.
“The horrible events surrounding the death of Eric Garner have revealed a deep crisis of confidence in some of the fundamental elements of our criminal justice system,” Schneiderman said in a letter to Cuomo.
The move came following the decisions of grand juries not to indict police officers involved in the deaths of two black men in Staten Island, N.Y. and Ferguson, Mo., which sparked nationwide marches and protests against police brutality.
Particularly, Schneiderman had written the letter in the wake of the Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to prosecute white police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of an unarmed black man, Eric Garner.
In addition, Akai Gurley, a 28-year-old father of a two-year-old, had also been recently killed, when a police officer fired his gun in a Brooklyn apartment building where Gurley was walking with his girlfriend, which prompted an additional protest in the city.
“This crisis of confidence is long in the making and has deep roots,” Schneiderman wrote. “But it is not a problem without a solution. 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.”
Ultimately, Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said she would support Schneiderman stepping in as a special prosecutor in such cases.
“The sad reality is many New Yorkers currently do not believe that all state residents are treated equally within our criminal justice system,” Stewart-Cousins stated. “We must take immediate steps to address these concerns, and I believe the appointment of a special prosecutor to oversee these types of cases would be a smart and positive step forward. I look forward to working with the attorney general and all my colleagues in state government to reform the criminal justice system and to enhance New Yorkers’ trust in this system.”
Schneiderman’s full letter is available at http://www.ag.ny.gov/pdfs/Schneiderman-to-Cuomo-12-08-14.pdf