ALBANY - District attorneys on Monday blasted Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's initiative to appoint a special prosecutor for cases involving violent police-civilian clashes as "gravely flawed" and saying it "will harm the cause of justice."
Gerald Mollen, the Broome County district attorney and the president of the state district attorneys' association, said Cuomo's executive order appointing Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to handle such cases "should never have been issued."
Mollen, in a statement on behalf of the association, said the order is ambiguous about what triggers involvement of the attorney general in such cases. He also said it may take the attorney general's office "hours to respond to an incident -- particularly in upstate, rural areas."
"It is understandable that the governor and the attorney general sought to address the concerns of the families who tragically lost loved ones in encounters with the police," Mollen said. "However, district attorneys have far more experience -- and resources -- in dealing with these cases than either the governor or the attorney general."
In the wake of the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, Cuomo, a Democrat, had been calling for a special prosecutor to handle deadly civilian-police clashes. The governor said local prosecutors face a perception problem on such matters because they work with police on a daily basis.
But his push for legislation failed because of opposition from the Republican-led Senate -- who had cited district attorneys' opposition to Cuomo's proposal. In reaction, Cuomo issued an "executive order" appointing Schneiderman to take over any police-civilian cases -- but only for one year. The governor has said he'll try for legislation again in 2016.
The state's chief judge had recommended making judges -- not district attorneys -- oversee the grand jury process in cases involving killings by police. But Cuomo and state legislators ignored the proposal.
A Cuomo aide didn't immediately comment but referred to the governor's comments on a talk show last week.
"The apparent conflict is a problem. And that has to be addressed," Cuomo said. "And this is the simple solution; remove those cases to another prosecutor."