Almost exactly a year after the death of Eric Garner, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has appointed a special prosecutor to examine the killings of civilians by police officers. With Garner’s mother and the mother of Ramarley Graham looking on, Cuomo signed an executive order giving the job to state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, citing “a crisis of confidence in the criminal justice system.”
“When a community doesn’t have trust for the fairness of the criminal justice system it creates anarchy and we have had a series of incidents in New York that have raised that question repeatedly,” said Cuomo. Schneiderman’s appointment is intended to eliminate the “perceived conflict” that arises when district attorneys — who rely on their police department to help them prosecute cases — are tasked with charging local cops. “The attorney general is in a different situation,” the governor explained. “He’s elected but he’s elected statewide, not by any particular county and he does not have that level of relationship with the police department that can pose that conflict.”
Of course, not everyone is happy with the move. For one thing, Schneiderman will not handle every cop-involved death — just those in which “a law enforcement officer kills an unarmed civilian or kills a civilian and there is a question as to whether or not the civilian is armed and dangerous.” It was opposed by New York’s district attorneys, who, through a spokesman, said, “We certainly don’t see any reason why the 62 elected attorneys should have their responsibility taken from them.” The police unions are unhappy, too, with Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association chief Pat Lynch claiming that “there will be pressure on a special prosecutor to indict an officer for the sake of public perception and that does not serve the ends of justice.”
Finally, Schneiderman’s role will only exist for as long as Cuomo wants it to. Installing a permanent special prosecutor would require passing a law in Albany — something New York’s legislature declined to do during its last session. Still, it’s a start.