Politics & Government

New York AG wants to prosecute police who kill unarmed civilians

- New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asked Gov. Mario Cuomo on Monday to let his office investigate and prosecute cases in which police officers kill unarmed civilians.

In a letter to Cuomo, Schneiderman says the move would help address a "crisis of confidence" in the judicial system following the grand jury decision not to prosecute New York City police officers in the recent chokehold death of Eric Garner.

Garner died after New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo placed him in an apparent chokehold while trying to arrest Garner for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes in July.

After telling arresting officers "I can't breathe" nearly a dozen times, Garner died of neck compression injuries sustained in the encounter.

In early December, a grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo for Garner's death, setting off a series of protests and triggering a national dialogue on police brutality against African American males.

The U.S. Justice Department is now investigating the case.

Garner's death has also raised concerns about whether local prosecutors, who present evidence to the grand jury, have a conflict of interest when investigating police officers since they work so closely together.

“Local prosecutors must rely on police departments as partners in law enforcement. These close relationships make it difficult for even the most fair-minded and talented local prosecutor to impartially prosecute his or her own colleagues in the police force," said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

A national survey by the Pew Research Center and USA Today released on Monday, found a majority of Americans, (57%) feel the grand jury made the wrong decision in not charging a police officer in Garner's death. Only 22 percent felt the grand jury made the right decision.

“The horrible events surrounding the death of Eric Garner have revealed a deep crisis of confidence in some of the fundamental elements of our criminal justice system,” said Schneiderman. “Nothing could be more critical for both the public and the police officers who work tirelessly to keep our communities safe than acting immediately to restore trust and confidence in the independence of reviews in any case involving an unarmed civilian killed by a law enforcement officer."

Under Schneiderman's proposal, the interim executive order would be drafted to expire when the state legislature "acts to permanently address this problem."

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, called the proposal "an important first step."