Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was expected to sign an executive order as soon as Wednesday appointing a statewide special prosecutor to investigate cases when a police officer kills an unarmed civilian.
Under the order, state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman would be appointed special prosecutor and given jurisdiction if the slain civilian is unarmed or if there is "a significant question if the person was armed and dangerous," Cuomo said.
"Those are the cases where there are questions, right? The person is unarmed or the person wasn't dangerous and the person was killed, and did the police need to kill this person," Cuomo said.
Schneiderman's jurisdiction as special prosecutor would apply in all of New York's 62 counties. He would be the one to decide whether there is enough of a "significant question" of whether a person was armed to merit special prosecutorial jurisdiction, a Cuomo official said.
When state lawmakers failed last month to create a special prosecutor, Cuomo said he would do it himself. Cuomo said he would try again in the next legislative session to have the position created or he would extend the prosecutor's assignment when it expires.
Citing political donations police unions give to district attorneys and the daily working relationships between cops and prosecutors, activists have long sought an independent prosecutorial channel to investigate police killings of civilians.
Patrick J. Lynch, president of city's Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said he didn't think a special prosecutor is needed: "Our concern is that there will be pressure on a special prosecutor to indict an officer for the sake of public perception."
Families of men who died in confrontations with the NYPD said they're worried Cuomo is going to break promises he made during an April meeting, by presenting an order with what they called "loopholes."
"I want to make sure that he keeps his promise that he made to all these families, because we've been through it. We don't want another family to go through it," said Constance Malcolm, mother of Ramarley Graham, an unarmed teen killed by an NYPD cop in 2012 in his home as he flushed marijuana.
Malcolm was one of the mothers who rallied on the sidewalk outside Cuomo's Manhattan office yesterday to demand a stronger order. The group wants an independent prosecutor for all cases of police civilian killings, pointing to cases like that of Walter Scott in South Carolina. A bystander video of the fleeing, unarmed South Carolina man slain by police shows an officer planting a Taser near his body. The Scott case, the activists said, shows that sometimes police claims are contested. The group said Cuomo promised a prosecutor for all police killings in April.
Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa said after the families met with Cuomo that he "had a productive meeting with the families this afternoon and looks forward to continuing the conversation."A senior Cuomo official, speaking on background, said the governor would rely on Section 63 of the executive law.
The official said the governor's office is girding for legal challenges over the removal of jurisdiction from elected district attorneys.
"We've already been threatened, FYI, that we're going to be sued," the official said. With Alison Fox