ALBANY, N.Y. — New York state's attorney general has asked the governor to authorize his office to investigate deaths at the hands of police following the public outcry over the killing of an unarmed Staten Island man.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, in a letter Monday to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said that authority exists under New York law, has been used in the past, and is needed now because of the "crisis of confidence" in law enforcement.
The attorney general's authority would apply to cases after the executive order is signed and last until the state Legislature acts to permanently address the issue.
It wouldn't apply to the case of Eric Garner, who died after a confrontation last summer with several New York City police, including an officer who used an apparent chokehold.
Federal authorities are now investigating that case after Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan investigated and a grand jury declined to indict any officers. In suburban St. Louis, a grand jury declined to indict an officer who shot an unarmed 18-year-old man to death.
"In New York, and across the country, the promise of equal justice under law has been eroded by a series of tragedies involving the death of unarmed persons as a result of the use of force by law enforcement officers," Schneiderman wrote, noting the victims are often minorities. "All too often, the families of the victims and the members of their communities are left with the belief that our criminal justice system has both unjustly targeted and inexplicably failed them."
The attorney general, whose office also prosecutes cases that are referred by other agencies, said many people believe the close working relationships between police and prosecutors influences how vigorously cases are pursued. Schneiderman said he believes "the overwhelming majority" are capable and have an ethical duty to see justice is done.
"The question is whether there is public confidence that justice has been served, especially in cases where homicide or other serious charges against the accused officer are not pursued or are dismissed prior to a trial by jury," he wrote.
Schneiderman noted that legislation has been introduced to authorize his office to investigate and prosecute any crime allegedly committed by police or in cases where a judge finds a county prosecutor disqualified.
He requested an immediate order from Cuomo to investigate and present grand jury evidence in any death of an unarmed person by police. "I would further respectfully request that, to avoid the possibility of compromising any local, state or federal investigations already in progress, the order apply only to incidents occurring on or after the date the order is signed."
There was no immediate comment from the Cuomo administration.