MANHATTAN — Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo for the power to investigate the death of unarmed civilians at the hands of police in order to address a "deep crisis of confidence in some of the fundamental elements of our criminal justice system."
The move came in a letter that Schneiderman sent to Cuomo Monday and was sparked by the decision of a Staten Island grand jury not to indict a white officer in the chokehold death of a black man, Eric Garner.
"Our justice system does not provide equal justice for everyone, specifically to people of color killed during encounters with law enforcement," Schneiderman said at a press conference. "That erosion of trust and confidence must be addressed and it must be addressed now."
The idea drew strong resistance from Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson, who issued a statement saying he was "adamantly opposed" to the idea.
“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," Thompson said in a statement.
Thompson also brushed off calls for a special prosecutor in the police shooting death of Akai Gurley, an unarmed black man fatally shot by a rookie cop in the stairwell of a Brooklyn public housing complex. He announced Friday that he was impaneling a grand jury to hear evidence in the incident.
Police killings of unarmed black men have grabbed the country's attention following the shooting death of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Mo. and the death of Garner on Staten Island. Grand juries declined to indict the white officers in both instances.
The decision by the grand jury not to indict in the Garner case exposes an "inherent conflict...when local district attorneys who work with police departments every day are asked to investigate members of those departments," said Schneiderman.
Cuomo said that he was open to legislative changes around the way police prosecution cases are handled.
The attorney general said that Cuomo has the authority under the state's constitution to give his office the power to to supersede local district attorneys and investigate any crime the governor sees fit.
The new authority also would only apply to cases that happen after the authority was granted, so Schneiderman would not be able to review the Garner or Gurley cases.
More than a dozen elected officials backed Schneiderman's request including Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
Mayor Bill de Blasio called Schneiderman's plan a "meaningful option" at an unrelated press conference.
"There is real frustration being felt deeply in our communities about how these investigations go and how the outcome occurs," said de Blasio. "I think new ideas about how we might approach things better are worth looking at."