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Schneiderman names team to handle probes of killings by police

While New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, left,

While New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, left, looks on, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, right, kisses Valerie Bell, mother of Sean Bell, after Cuomo signed an executive order in New York, Wednesday, July 8, 2015. Credit: AP

A team of veteran prosecutors will be able to quickly deploy anywhere in the state to investigate cases in which police officers kill unarmed civilians, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said Thursday.

Schneiderman, granted authority a day earlier under an executive order signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, will supersede the state's 62 district attorneys in such cases and can oversee local cops and sheriffs "to supervise and ensure that things are done properly."

The team brings a range of experience to their mission, including probes of homicides, crooked cops, money launderers, corrupt politicians, witness tamperers and cold cases, Schneiderman's office said.

"It is my great hope that we have very little work to do," he said. "But we are prepared to handle whatever comes."

Cuomo said he signed the order -- covering not only the killings of unarmed civilians but cases in which it's disputed whether the person was armed and dangerous -- to restore confidence in the criminal justice system in the aftermath of deaths during encounters with police, such as that of Eric Garner of Staten Island. His apparent chokehold death last July 17, caught on amateur video, set off nationwide protests. The cop involved was not charged.

Families like Garner's have argued that the everyday working relationships between cops and prosecutors raise questions about whether investigations of potential wrongdoing by police are conducted fairly.

In disputes over whether a slain civilian was armed and dangerous at the time of the killing, "We'll err on the side of over-inclusion," Schneiderman said of the cases he'll take.

The team will be led by Alvin L. Bragg Jr., a former federal prosecutor. His deputies will be Wanda Perez-Maldonado, senior counsel in the attorney general's public integrity bureau and a former Bronx prosecutor; Paul A. Clyne, a former Albany district attorney; and Buffalo-based Assistant Attorney General Diane LaVallee. The unit's counsel will be Gail Heatherly, chief of the office's conviction review bureau.

The team can also draw from Schneiderman's criminal division and the attorney general's regional offices, including Mineola and Hauppauge. His office is giving his team's round-the-clock contact information to the 62 county district attorneys, who must alert the attorney general's office of such police shootings.

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