New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has announced that he intends to seek a probe into the deaths of unarmed citizens at the hands of law enforcement officers throughout the state to address what he has called a “crisis of confidence” in the Justice system. Schneiderman’s announcement comes as nationwide demonstrations continue in response to grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island that opted against indicting either police officer considered responsible for the deaths of unarmed citizens Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
Schneiderman stated that he will call upon New York Governor Anthony Cumo to issue a temporary executive order allowing the Attorney General the authority to act in place of local district attorneys in the investigations of cases involving unarmed citizens who are killed by law enforcement. If enacted, the executive order would temporarily shift the authority to conduct such investigations from local prosecutors, who maintain intimate professional relationships with local law enforcement agencies. Schneiderman said that details surrounding the death of Eric Garner in particular have uncovered a deep seeded lack of faith in certain elements of the criminal justice system, and he believes that restoring trust between law enforcement and the public is of utmost concern, “Nothing could be more crucial,” Schneiderman said.
The lack of faith that the general public has in the justice system is reflected in the results of a national poll conducted by USA Today in conjunction with the Pew Research Center to gage the public’s response to the grand jury decisions in the cases involving Michael Brown and Eric Garner. In the poll taken, of 1,507 Adult Americans who participated in a phone interview conducted between Wednesday and Sunday, it was observed that respondents who believed the police officer responsible for Garner’s death should have faced charges from the grand jury outnumbered those who agreed with the jury decision by nearly 3 to 1. Approximately 57% of the 1,114 respondents who were asked questions specifically related to the Garner case believe that the jury erred in its failure to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, while 22% of respondents supported the jury decision.
New York City mayor Michael De Blasio has welcomed Schneiderman’s request for an executive order authorizing the Attorney General to investigate cases involving police killings of unarmed civilians as what he believes to be a meaningful proposal, but four of the five district attorneys for the city were less than enthusiastic about the potential power shift. Brooklyn D.A Kenneth Thomson has been a vocal critic of the proposal, stating that he was “adamantly opposed” to the request and believes that he is as firmly committed to the pursuit of “equal and fair justice under the law.” Richard Brown, the district attorney serving Queens, has also joined Brown in opposing the potential executive order, while Bronx D.A Robert Johnson and Manhattan D.A Cy Vance Jr. have expressed “serious reservations.” A spokesman for Staten Island district attorney Donald Donovan declined to comment on the proposal.
Thomson has promised to form a grand jury by the end of December to consider filing possible charges against NYPD officer Peter Liang, a rookie who shot and killed unarmed 20-year-old Brooklyn resident Akai Gurney while patrolling a housing project last month. In addition, Vance stated in an interview on “Meet the Press” that he was willing to discuss appointing special prosecutors to oversee criminal cases involving police officers.
Schneiderman emphasized in his request for an executive order that proposals requiring special prosecutors to oversee cases involving the deaths of unarmed citizens at the hand of law enforcement have been floating around the state legislature for years, but have yet to be enacted into law. If approved by Cumo, the order will remain in effect indefinitely and automatically terminate when the legislature moves to pass meaningful reform.
By: Stephen Craun
Photo courtesy of: Pilot Girl-Flickr License
Photo courtesy of: Nathan Congleton-Flickr License