New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent a letter to the state’s 62 district attorneys July 13, outlining what prosecutors are, and are not, able to do following the deaths of unarmed civilians which involve police.
Schniederman wrote the letter following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order last week, which allows the attorney general to step in as a special prosecutor in cases where police have killed citizens who were not considered armed and dangerous.
“In such matters, I hereby designate you, the district attorney, to exercise such powers and perform such duties in your county of jurisdiction as you deem appropriate under the circumstances, until such time as you are directed otherwise in writing by the special prosecutor,” Schneiderman wrote. “This includes, but is not limited to, questioning witnesses, drafting search warrants, preserving evidence, and supporting the investigation of the incident, but does not include, without prior authorization from the special prosecutor or his designee, conferring immunity on any witness, eliciting witness testimony in grand jury proceedings, or entering plea or cooperation agreements.”
Prior to receiving Schneiderman’s letter, the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York had released a statement criticizing the attorney general’s appointment.
The organization called Cuomo’s order “gravely flawed,” and said Schneiderman’s appointment “invites serious legal issues, regarding how cases involving the deaths of unarmed civilians caused by law enforcement officers will be properly investigated during the critical, early hours, and days after such a tragic incident occurs.”
However, Schneiderman said he wrote the letter after speaking with prosecutors at the district attorneys association’s summer conference in Broome County, July 10.
“I share the view expressed at the conference that this time period is crucial, and any jurisdictional uncertainty during that period will tend to impair the process of gathering evidence and determining facts,” Schneiderman stated.
A spokesman for Schneiderman added, “The attorney general is committed to working with the district attorneys to implement the executive order in a way that ensures a thorough and fair review of any cases that arise.”
Gov. Cuomo decided to appoint Schneiderman as special prosecutor in cases of police killings after grand juries failed to indict officers in the killings of unarmed black men in several states across the country, including New York.