District attorneys Monday criticized Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's initiative to appoint a special prosecutor for cases involving deadly police-civilian clashes as "gravely flawed" and said it would "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 T. Schneiderman to handle such cases "should never have been issued."
Mollen said the order is ambiguous about what would trigger 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 on Staten Island last year, 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 State Senate -- which 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.
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."
Schneiderman's office didn't immediately comment.
Mollen said the board of directors of the District Attorneys Association decided unanimously to issue the statement. Among those in the room when the vote was taken was Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, Mollen said.
"There was no district attorney who disagreed with the sentiment of it," Mollen said, adding, "The order just leaves gaps."
With Matthew Chayes