Cuomo’s Solution To Cop Killings is Half Baked
July 14, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — Last week saw New York Governor Andrew Cuomo appoint Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as special prosecutor to finally bring some semblance of accountability to the state’s police forces. And there was much rejoicing. Police will have to straighten up and fly right now, just like the rest of us, right? But before we break out the party hats and kazoos, best to figure out if this is the beginning of actual accountability or just more political appeasement.
First and foremost, Cuomo’s authorization of the AG as special prosecutor is temporary and dubious. Since it was done through executive order, the longest it can last is one year. The governor has stated publicly his intent to renew the program after the one year is up, should legislature not reach agreement on a better solution and Cuomo remain in office.
Second, appointing Schneiderman, whose office lacks any real experience in handling serious criminal investigations and prosecutions of any sort, is a tepid choice in perhaps the toughest type of prosecution there can be. Under the best of circumstances, the AG’s office is no one’s ideal choice.
Cuomo could be sincere, or he could merely be attempting to silence the throngs of New Yorkers who have demanded police accountability in the wake of the deaths of Ramarley Graham, Eric Garner, and Akai Gurley.
Debate prior to Cuomo’s executive order focused mainly on what kinds of cases the Attorney General would be prosecuting, a touchy point given New York’s experience with Maurice Nadjari’s tenure as special prosecutor in the 1970s when he turned from bad cops to dirty politicians and judges.
In spite of significant advocacy from Gwen Carr, the increasingly politically active mother of the late Eric Garner, the governor decided to strictly limit the reach of this new unit. Schneiderman’s new group, led by his Executive Assistant, Alvin Bragg Jr., will be limited to investigating and prosecuting cases where an officer has killed an unarmed individual or if there are serious doubts about whether the deceased was armed.
While this limitation is significant, it does open the police up to prosecution for those cases where they shoot and kill based upon the possibility that the person might be armed, but is, in fact, not. Far too often, a person’s movements are assumed to be a “threat” warranting deadly force only because it is assumed that the person is armed with little to no evidence or information to support it. It would appear that in situations like this, the special prosecutor can go after the cop.
Only time will tell if these modern day “untouchables” will ever actually be called into action. Predictions are that only a handful of cases at most will qualify for special prosecution during the first year of their mandate. Although police killings where the decedent is undisputedly unarmed are rare, there can be little doubt that Bragg and his team will eventually be called into action.
Once the rubber inevitably meets the road, there will be fierce opposition, and the source of said opposition will come as no surprise. The “anonymous” beat cop quoted by the New York Post all the way up to rabid human Pat Lynch will no doubt see the unit as some sort of Spanish Inquisition. And nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.
Lynch’s opposition at this point has been muted, which is quite out of character for the same upright pit bull who, back in 2000, took on everyone’s Boss, Bruce Springsteen, over his song “American Skin” about the NYPD’s killing of Amadou Diallo. While Lynch is Trump-like in his bombast, he is also Trump-like in his political cunning. Lynch knows that if he comes out guns blazing against this measure, he will expose the NYPD’s absurdly ironic opposition to accountability for law breakers.
However, wait until that first case is filed and there is no doubt that we will see Pat Lynch at his worst. He knows that his best move politically is to wait until he has a specific hero in the special prosecutor’s crosshairs. Then he can dig into his disgusting bag of tricks to delegitimize the prosecution as a mere witch hunt to appease the criminal element. Because in his view, there are only cops and criminals.
But Lynch, the NYPD and the entirety of New York’s police have already won a significant victory. Bragg and his special prosecutors cannot go after the cop who is caught on video bullying a teenager and arresting him for things that clearly did not happen. They have no jurisdiction to charge the cop who pumps his unarmed victim full of bullets unless that person dies. They are powerless to root out those cops who have hidden or withheld evidence to make sure their arrest is more important than an innocent person’s life.
No, the handful of cases that will end up pitting the attorney general’s office against the police will be the most tragic and emotionally charged kind – when a cop has killed a citizen. And if you think this will be limited to local or even statewide news, you are wrong. The first time the attorney general files murder or manslaughter charges against a cop, the entire nation will be watching.
Unfortunately, the attention that first case will receive will not involve thoughtful analysis. It will likely have two pitchfork wielding sides in complete opposition, one demanding that the cop hang immediately, and the other demanding the same fate for anyone who would dare question the bravery of that same cop. Amidst all of that, the truth will likely be very lost.
For all of the faults of the special prosecutor, there is one improvement. Unlike Ferguson, or Staten Island, or Cleveland, the first cop to be prosecuted under this new executive order will not have the peace of mind of being on a first name basis with his prosecutor. However, he will still know the cops who are the first to arrive at the scene. As “independent” as the special prosecutors are, they will have a very tough time moving forward with a case without the cooperation of the police.
For a normal case, the cops show up to the scene of a murder, tape it off and go to work. If they already know who the killer is, then the entire investigation is tailored to corroborate that person’s guilt. There is rarely a case of a police shooting where the cop (or cops) who fired the fatal shot (or shots) is unknown. However, unlike a normal murder scene, the scene of a police shooting is treated much differently. The investigation is tailored to justify the shooting.
Previously, we have seen immense cooperation between the police and local District Attorneys, but that is not surprising since their interests have always seemingly been aligned. The police don’t want a conviction and the DA will help them not get it. It will be interesting to see the mood that exists during an upcoming investigation by the special prosecutor, but we can be assured that it will be far less cordial.
The creation of this unit will fade into the background for the time being, that is, until a police officer shoots and kills an unarmed person. When that first cop is charged, it will be a media circus. Cops and reformers alike will make sure of that. The police have, for a very long time, enjoyed in-house “accountability” and “discipline.” They will fight tooth and nail to ensure that this program crashes and burns. And, owing to their power and the shocking limitations placed upon a unit by Governor Cuomo, it probably will.