Manhattan DA backtracks on prosecution memo perceived as soft on crime

Alvin Bragg clarified his original memo after an outcry.

February 04, 2022, 3:34 PM

A month into his tenure, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg on Friday sought to clarify some of his prosecutorial policies that fueled criticism he is soft on crime.

Bragg’s letter to his staff, obtained by ABC News, came the same week the NYPD finished burying two police officers shot in the line of duty.

The widow of officer Jason Rivera, Dominique Luzuriaga, received a standing ovation during her husband’s funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral when she called out Bragg and his approach to law enforcement.

“The system continues to fail us” she said. “We’re not safe anymore. I know you were tired of these laws, especially the ones from the new DA. I hope he’s watching you speak through me right now.”

Bragg’s “Day One” memorandum said the district attorney’s office would not prosecute fare beating, resisting arrest and other nonviolent crimes in an attempt to decriminalize poverty and mental illness and balance fairness and safety.

It also said prosecutors should treat armed robbery in commercial settings as misdemeanor petit larceny if there is no genuine risk of physical harm and disallowed bail conditions for pre-trial cases except for "very serious cases." The policies, he wrote, "will make us safer."

The memo prompted a scathing review from the city's new police commissioner, Keechant Sewell, who feared Bragg’s policies “will invite violence against police officers and will have deleterious effects on our relationship with the communities we protect,” she said the day after the memo was issued.

Bragg conceded the "Day One" memo that outlined his approach “has been a source of confusion, rather than clarity,” according the letter to his staff sent Friday.

“Violence against police officers will not be tolerated. We will prosecute any person who harms or attempts to harm a police officer,” Bragg’s letter said.

Bragg backtracked on how the office will prosecute commercial robbery.

“A commercial robbery with a gun will be charged as a felony, whether or not the gun is operable, loaded, or a realistic imitation. A commercial robbery at knifepoint, or by other weapon that creates a risk of physical harm, will be charged as a felony,” the letter said. “In retail thefts that do not involve a risk of physical harm, the Office will continue to assess the charges based on all of the aggravating and mitigating circumstances presented.”

Bragg also sought to reassure assistant district attorneys they retained discretion in the way they handle cases after his initial memo required them to “obtain the approval” of a supervisor to deviate from his policies.

“You were hired for your keen judgment, and I want you to use that judgment – and experience – in every case,” Bragg said.

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