By MICHAEL BALSAMO and DAVID KLEPPER | AP
NEW YORK (AP) — With Eric Garner's mother looking on, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order Wednesday directing the state attorney general's office to review cases in which unarmed civilians are killed by police.
The Democratic governor said the action was needed to strengthen confidence in law enforcement after officers weren't criminally charged last year in deadly encounters with unarmed men in New York and elsewhere.
"This is a day of fairness, a day of justice," Cuomo said. "It's a day that should go a long way in restoring peoples' trust in our system of criminal justice and our system of government."
A special prosecutor appointed by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will review and potentially prosecute law enforcement killings of unarmed civilians or when there's a question about whether the slain civilian was armed and dangerous.
"There are far too many Americans who believe there isn't equal justice under the law," Schneiderman said. He said the governor's move to have him appoint a special prosecutor was "a step to address a crisis of confidence." He is expected to appoint one or more prosecutors to a new team that would focus on cases involving police killings, which he said would investigate "thoroughly and impartially."
Critics have said local prosecutors cannot properly investigate or prosecute such cases because of their close relationship with police. Cuomo pushed legislation this year that would have created a permanent special prosecutor, but the measure was blocked in the Senate. Cuomo's executive order is good for one year.
Advocates had initially wanted Cuomo's executive order to apply to all cases when someone is killed by an officer.
"It doesn't answer all the questions but it is a step in the right direction and it is historic because it hasn't been done in any other state," said Gwen Carr, whose son Eric Garner was killed last year in a police chokehold on Staten Island after being stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.
Constance Malcolm, the mother of 18-year-old Ramarley Graham, who was killed by a police officer in the Bronx in 2012 in a suspected drug bust gone awry, said she and other families are "committed to passing a strong permanent solution."
Cuomo praised the families and said they "have changed the system."
Klepper reported from Albany.
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