New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has requested new authority to automatically be named a special prosecutor in cases of police officers killing unarmed civilians.
The move follows the failure of grand juries to return indictments against police officers Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Daniel Pantaleo in the choke hold death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York.
In response to those cases and others, protesters across the country have, for days, questioned whether police officers can ever be held accountable for the death of civilians.
"It is time to acknowledge that the public has lost confidence in this part of our criminal justice system," Schneiderman said at a news conference today.
The New York State Legislature has considered a bill to strip certain cases from local district attorneys and give the state attorney general power to investigate and prosecute any crime allegedly committed by a police officer. Until the Legislature takes action, Schneiderman is seeking temporary authorization from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to supersede local district attorneys and take over cases where unarmed civilians die at the hands of police.
"There is an inherent conflict when local district attorneys who work with police departments everyday are asked to investigate members of those departments," Schneiderman said.
Dan Donovan, the Richmond County district attorney who brought the Pantaleo case before a grand jury in Staten Island, declined to comment but other New York City prosecutors denounced Schneiderman's proposal.
"I understand the intensity of the current public concern," said Bronx D.A. Robert Johnson. "However, this is not the sort of issue which should be addressed in haste."
Brooklyn D.A. Ken Thompson said he is "adamantly opposed."
"Local prosecutors who are elected to enforce the laws in those communities should not be robbed of their ability to faithfully and fairly do so in cases where police officers shoot, kill or injure someone unjustly," Thompson said in a statement. "The people of Brooklyn have voted for their district attorney to keep them safe from all crimes, including those of police brutality."
Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, also opposed the proposal.
"There is absolutely no reason to alter the existing system because if the rule of law and rule of evidence as they stand in the State of New York are followed dispassionately and honestly, then the outcome will be right and just regardless of what office handles a case," Lynch said.