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Politics and Government

DAs still trying to clarify executive order on police cases

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District attorneys around New York are still trying to clarify a recent executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The order appoints the state attorney general as a special prosecutor in cases where unarmed suspects are killed by police, or when there is a question about whether a suspect was armed or not.  Earlier this week Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the first such case he would take on.

The governor's order came about a year after the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed Staten Island man who died after police put him in a chokehold. Police were not indicted in the case, and that resulted in calls for reform of the grand jury system.

But lawmakers in Albany did not pass any changes, so Cuomo issued the executive order last month. Schneiderman’s office will handle cases in which police kill an unarmed suspect, or when there is a question of whether the suspect was armed.

Broome County District Attorney Gerald Mollen is the head of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York (DAASNY). He has criticized the executive order for being poorly drafted but also because it makes the justice system different for just one group.

“We’re setting a new set of rules for one kind of citizen: police,” he said last week.

Mollen wants to leave the cases in the hands of local district attorneys. But he says DAASNY is in favor of creating an independent monitor that could review the work of the state’s 62 district attorneys. They’d also support letting prosecutors show more evidence to the public.

For now, though, he said they’re working to clarify the executive order. “We’re in discussions with the attorney general’s office to try to sort of walk through all the hypotheticals,” Mollen said. “And we’re going try to make it work. The executive order is the law of New York state.”

For his part, Cuomo said he will take up the issue again next legislative session.