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Skelos: No need for special prosecutors to handle claims of excessive force by police

ALBANY -- Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on Thursday rejected state proposals to assign special prosecutors to take over cases of alleged excessive force by police.

"I don't see a need for them," said Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), who controls whether legislation reaches the Senate floor. Several Democrats have proposed removing the cases from local district attorneys who work closely with police as a way to avoid even an appearance of bias for officers.

Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who plans to make a "comprehensive" proposal to improve police-civilian confrontations in January, said he hasn't yet spoken to Skelos. While many Democrats and advocates are calling for immediate change, Cuomo is not only talking to angry community activists, but to police and prosecutors.

"I have tremendous respect for the police and the job they do," said Cuomo, a former prosecutor. "I get it from their perspective. Being a police officer is a very difficult, frightening job . . . So I get both sides of this argument. And there are two sides."

Supporters of changing the system cite a list of unarmed African-American and Latino suspects killed by police in cases in which no police officers were charged. In recent weeks, grand juries decided not to charge police in the shooting death of Michael Brown in Missouri or in the choking death of Eric Garner in New York City.

In the secretive grand jury process to consider indictments, prosecutors present evidence and direct testimony to jurors, who don't hear rebuttals or cross-examinations.

"You have elected officials in the local DAs and I think that's the way they are accountable and I think that's the way they are accountable and that's the direction we should go," Skelos said Thursday.

Hours later, Cuomo, didn't rule out using special prosecutors in some form to take the volatile cases out of the hands of local prosecutors. But many details would have to be worked out.

"Often you tend to have a knee-jerk after a situation like this," Cuomo said. "I think on this one, it's more complex, we should talk it through, think it through. We should debate it and see what we come up with."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said no action would happen in a potential special session later this month. He plans public hearings.

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