New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has written a letter asking Governor Cuomo to allow him to investigate and prosecute cases involving unarmed civilians killed by the police. “The horrible events surrounding the death of Eric Garner have revealed a deep crisis of confidence in some of the fundamental elements of our criminal justice system,” Schneiderman said at a press conference yesterday. "The Governor has the power to act today to solve this problem. I strongly encourage him to take action now.”  

That "crisis of confidence" in New York City is best illustrated by the 179 cases in which civilians were killed by on-duty NYPD officers in 15 years; only three of those officers were indicted, and just one of them convicted.

Schneiderman's assumption of prosecutorial power in the cases, which according to his release would only last until the state legislature deals with the issue, was supported by the NYCLU and a long list of federal, state, and local representatives.

Predictably, the police unions aren't pleased with Schneiderman's proposal, with the head of the Detectives' Endowment Association telling the Times it “insulted the intelligence and the integrity of the grand jurors who examined the facts" of Garner's case.

A spokesperson for Governor Cuomo, who is said to despise his attorney general, told the Times they were reviewing Schneiderman's letter.

In a statement, Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson immediately shot down the proposal: "The people of Brooklyn have voted for their District Attorney to keep them safe from all crimes, including those of police brutality. The Attorney General’s proposal would override their choice—and that should not happen.”

He added, "No one is more committed to ensuring equal justice under the law than I am."

Perhaps to prove his point, sources close to Thompson told the Daily News that he would convene a grand jury to look at the beating of Donovan Lawson, the 20-year-old who was repeatedly hit with a baton by Officer Evans Mazile at the Myrtle Avenue J/M/Z stop last month. Thompson has also promised [PDF] to present the evidence regarding the murder of Akai Gurley by a rookie police officer last month to a grand jury "without fear or favor."

Thompson has also secured indictments against two officers who beat an unarmed teenager.

Jeffrey Fagan, a law professor at Columbia who specializes in police accountability and criminal law, tells us that the effectiveness of Schneiderman's plan relies heavily on politics.

"It's a 'be careful what you wish for' problem," Fagan says. "It's a good idea so long as the AG is someone like Schneiderman. But if the AG in New York turns over, and Eric's successor has leanings like the AGs who were implicated by the New York Times in a conspiracy to undermine EPA environmental regulations, then we might not be so pleased with her or his choice of a special prosecutor for police matters."

Fagan adds, "For every Leon Jaworski or Lawrence Walsh, there's a Ken Starr. There has to be some apolitical oversight or regulation into how the special prosecutor is appointed."