Governor Cuomo Signs Executive Order Appointing NYS Attorney General as Special Prosecutor in Cases Where Law Enforcement Officers are Involved in Deaths of Civilians

Governor Signs Executive Order Accompanied by Dozens of Community Advocates; Audio Available Here
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo  issued Executive Order No. 147, which appoints the New York State Attorney General as a special prosecutor in matters relating to the deaths of unarmed civilians caused by law enforcement officers. The order also allows the special prosecutor to review cases where there is a question whether the civilian was armed and dangerous at the time of his or her death. The Governor signed the Executive Order this afternoon at CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City accompanied by dozens of community advocates and elected officials who have been pushing to strengthen the criminal justice system in New York.

Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner; Constance Malcolm, mother of Ramarley Graham; Iris Baez, mother of Anthony Baez; Hawa Bah, mother of Mohamed Bah; Margarita Rosario, mother of Anthony Rosario and aunt of Hilton Vega jointly said: “For decades, our families and those of other New Yorkers killed by police have faced repeated injustices, not only losing family members to police violence by those tasked with serving and protecting but also being failed by local district attorneys not holding officers accountable to the law for those deaths. Many of us have been calling for a special prosecutor for decades, so this reform stems from the legacies of New Yorkers whose unjust deaths go back a long time and the leadership of our families. Today, Governor Cuomo is listening to our voices of and those of other New Yorkers who support equal justice to enact an important reform to end this conflict of interest. Nothing will bring back the lives of our loved ones, and this was never simply about our families – it was about all those who come after us because we so deeply understand the pain and heartache of losing a loved one and then having their life not matter within our justice system. While New York takes national leadership with this reform, there remains much work to be done to ensure our children and family members are no longer unjustly killed by police in the first place. We hope to work with Governor Cuomo and other leaders in moving New York forward to build upon today’s important step to end the discriminatory and abusive policing that threatens our families and communities.”

Dr. Hazel N. Dukes, President of NAACP New York State Conference said: “This is a significant executive order that will ensure that communities of color including African Americans, Latinos and other minorities are protected from police misconduct. With this order a special prosecutor will have the power to review, investigate and prosecute cases where unarmed civilians are killed. We thank Governor Andrew Cuomo for his vision and commitment to protect all our communities.”

Russell Simmons said: “I applaud Governor Cuomo for living up to his promise to sign an executive order appointing a special prosecutor for cases involving the deaths of unarmed civilians by law enforcement. This show of leadership by Governor Cuomo should spark a shift across the entire country, where every state has special, impartial prosecutors that investigate these cases. There is a dire need for broad reform of the criminal justice system in order to restore the trust between the community and law enforcement, and I believe this is a step in the right direction. However, I urge the New York State legislature to pass comprehensive reform when they return to session.”

Michael Hardy, Executive Vice President & General Counsel of National Action Network said: “This executive order is exactly what we needed in New York to guarantee that cases of police-involved civilian deaths are investigated to the fullest extent of the law. I want to applaud Governor Cuomo for taking this step, because it is one that our state – and our nation – needed greatly. Next, I hope that other states will follow our lead to bring trust back to the judicial system.”

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman

Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director of the Correctional Association of New York said: “Governor Cuomo’s appointment of the Attorney General as Special Prosecutor in these troubling cases hopefully signals a new era of accountability that is critical in ensuring an objective process immune from political agendas.”

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said: “In December, I stood with reform advocates and other public officials to call attention to the crisis in confidence related to the investigation of deaths of unarmed civilians at the hands of police. Today, Governor Cuomo has issued an executive order to empower my office to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute such cases. I can imagine no more important responsibility, and my office will handle these cases with the highest level of care, professionalism, and independence.”

Former Governor David Paterson said: “For the families and friends that have lost a loved one to an altercation with police officers, this is welcome news. Appointing a special prosecutor will ensure that justice is served fairly and that these cases are given the required attention and care moving forward. I applaud Governor Cuomo for once again stepping up to a controversial issue and tackling it head-on.”

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James said: “Governor Cuomo’s decision to appoint a special prosecutor in crimes against civilians by police officers is a critical move towards criminal justice reform. District Attorneys inherently rely on cooperation from police every day, and we need mechanisms in place to avoid conflict of interests and maintain objectivity in cases of police violence. I first called for a special prosecutor in these types of cases immediately following the non-indictment of Officer Pantaleo in the case of Eric Garner, and I am glad to see progress.”

The full Executive Order can be found below:

No. 147

E X E C U T I V E O R D E R
A SPECIAL PROSECUTOR TO INVESTIGATE AND PROSECUTE MATTERS RELATING TO THE DEATHS OF CIVILIANS CAUSED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS

WHEREAS, the Constitution of the State of New York obliges the Governor to take care that the laws of New York are faithfully executed; and

WHEREAS, I have solemnly sworn, pursuant to Article 13, Section 1 of the Constitution, to support the Constitution and faithfully discharge the duties of the office of Governor; and

WHEREAS, there have been recent incidents involving the deaths of unarmed civilians that have challenged the public’s confidence and trust in our system of criminal justice; and

WHEREAS, public concerns have been raised that such incidents cannot be prosecuted at the local level without conflict or bias, or the public perception of conflict or bias; and

WHEREAS, it is necessary to ensure that a full, reasoned, and independent investigation and prosecution of any such incident is conducted without conflict or bias, or the perception of conflict or bias; and

WHEREAS, the foregoing compels me to conclude that my constitutional obligations provide that in cases where an issue of a real or perceived conflict of interest exists, and to ensure full confidence in our system of criminal justice, a special prosecutor should be appointed with respect to such incidents. Such appointment of a special prosecutor will supersede in all ways the authority and jurisdiction of a county district attorney to manage, interpret, prosecute or inquire about such incidents; and

NOW, THEREFORE, I, ANDREW M. CUOMO, Governor of the State of New York, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and Laws of the State of New York, and particularly by subdivision 2 of section 63 of the Executive Law, hereby require the Attorney General (hereinafter, the “special prosecutor”) to investigate, and if warranted, prosecute certain matters involving the death of an unarmed civilian, whether in custody or not, caused by a law enforcement officer, as listed in subdivision 34 of section 1.20 of the Criminal Procedure Law. The special prosecutor may also investigate and prosecute in such instances where, in his opinion, there is a significant question as to whether the civilian was armed and dangerous at the time of his or her death;

FURTHER, for any matter covered herein, the special prosecutor shall have the powers and duties specified in subdivisions 2 and 8 of section 63 of the Executive Law for purposes of this Order, and shall possess and exercise all the prosecutorial powers necessary to investigate, and if warranted, prosecute the incident. The special prosecutor’s jurisdiction will displace and supersede the jurisdiction of the county district attorney where the incident occurred; and such county district attorney shall have only the powers and duties designated to him or her by the special prosecutor as specified in subdivision 2 of section 63 of the Executive Law;

FURTHER, for any matter covered herein, the special prosecutor shall conduct a full, reasoned, and independent investigation including, but not limited to, (i) gathering and analyzing evidence, (ii) conducting witness interviews, and (iii) reviewing investigative reports, scientific reports, and audio and video recordings;

FURTHER, for any matter covered herein, the special prosecutor shall, (i) attend in person, a term or terms of the County or Supreme Court to be held in and for the County of such appropriate jurisdiction consistent with this Order, (ii) appear in person before any grand jury drawn for any term(s) of said court, for the purpose of conducting any and all proceedings, examinations, and inquiries, and (iii) bring any and all criminal actions and proceedings which may be had or taken before said grand jury and other grand juries concerning or relating to any and all alleged unlawful acts as described by this Order;

FURTHER, for any matter covered herein, the special prosecutor will provide to me, or my designee, a report on all cases where, (i) the special prosecutor declines to present evidence to a grand jury regarding the death of a civilian as described in this Order, whether in custody or not, allegedly caused by a law enforcement officer, or (ii) the grand jury declines to return an indictment on any charges. The report will include, to the extent possible and lawful, an explanation of that outcome and any recommendations for systemic reform arising from the investigation.

This Executive Order shall continue until modified, suspended or terminated by the Governor.

G I V E N under my hand and the Privy Seal of the State in the City of Albany this eighth day of July in the year two thousand fifteen.

BY THE GOVERNOR

Secretary to the Governor