Cuomo appoints state AG to prosecute cop-involved killings

Stephon Johnson | 7/16/2015, 12:16 p.m.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will oversee cases of police-involved civilian deaths.
Eric Schneiderman

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will oversee cases of police-involved civilian deaths.

Appointed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Schneiderman is now a special prosecutor who will investigate killings involving the police. Cuomo signed the executive order last Wednesdays, almost one year to the day that Eric Garner was killed by New York Police Department officers via a chokehold.

Yul-san Liem and Loyda Colon, co-directors of the advocacy organization the Justice Committee, which works with families of New Yorkers killed by police, expressed satisfaction with the new appointment. The change is something that the organization has pushed for several years.

“The families of New Yorkers killed by police have been leading the push for the establishment of a special prosecutor in New York state for years,” read their statement. “Their tireless advocacy has led this movement in New York to this point. Their leadership and commitment is an inspiration to us all and what is sorely needed in our state and in this country.”

Cuomo’s enactment of this executive order, which does not have a pre-determined time limit, is an important step in the right direction to ending the systemic conflict of interest that exists for local district attorneys in cases of police killings of civilians and addressing the crisis of police violence in our state and country.

Cuomo acknowledged that the situation is a crisis.

“It’s a crisis in this state and it is a crisis nationwide,” stated Cuomo at a news conference at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “It is a crisis of confidence in the criminal justice system. And it is a crisis of trust. … The system does not work without trust … When a community doesn’t have trust for the fairness of the criminal justice system, it creates anarchy.”

Some elected officials were quick to praise the execuctive order, including New York Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte.

“Even though this is a step in the right direction, I share the disappointment of the families and the advocates that the order does not encompass all police-related civilian deaths—only cases in which the victim is unarmed or those cases in which it is determined whether or not the victim was armed and dangerous,” said Bichotte in a statement.

According to Cuomo, Schneiderman’s power isn’t retroactive and won’t apply to recent or ongoing cases.

Priscilla Gonzalez, the organizing director of Communities United for Police Reform, said that the fight isn’t over and that the special prosecutor appointment is just the beginning.

“The many families of New Yorkers killed by police who have tenaciously and selflessly championed the sound policy of appointing a special prosecutor to handle police killings are our s/heroes today,” said Gonzalez in a statement. “They have taken this reform from one that almost no one believed was possible to achieve through to the finish line. Governor Cuomo’s executive order is an important step towards ending the systemic conflict of interest that local district attorneys have in handling cases of police killing civilians.”

Cuomo didn’t say whether resources would be allocated to the state attorney general’s office to help with Schneiderman’s new responsibilities.