Kenneth Thompson, the Brooklyn district attorney, blasted a request to appoint a special prosecutor in Eric Garner-like cases as “unworkable,” continuing his unusually outspoken defense of district attorneys and how they handle police brutality cases.
“If you can’t trust me and my 61 other colleagues in the state to handle police brutality cases, then take them all from us,” Mr. Thompson told radio host Brian Lehrer on WNYC this morning. “Every act of police brutality in this state–it is unworkable, Brian.”
Mr. Thompson, a Democrat and Brooklyn’s first black district attorney, has led the charge against a request State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman made to Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week to temporarily appoint himself as a special prosecutor in future cases that involve a police officer’s actions leading to the death of an unarmed civilian. Mr. Schneiderman, flanked by a coterie of city and state elected officials, said he made the request because there is a public perception that local district attorneys, who often work closely with the police, aren’t able to fairly prosecute cases of police brutality.
Mr. Schneiderman’s proposal, coming days after a Staten Island grand jury failed to indict a white police officer in the death of Garner, a black man, was received warmly by many minority elected officials. Though Mr. Schneiderman stressed he was not questioning the integrity of district attorneys, Mr. Thompson immediately pushed back on the idea he or any district attorney needed a special prosecutor to investigate cases involving the police.
“The proposals that are being floated are not really workable. For instance, the attorney general of the State of New York is elected as well, every four years,” Mr. Thompson said. “We have 62 counties in the state so, first of all, it will signal that you can’t trust local prosecutors to handle these cases. Something about us, you can’t trust us, so we have to take these cases and put them in the hands of someone else–I disagree with that.”
“If there’s a shooting up in Buffalo, New York, a young unarmed guy is killed by the police up there, a special prosecutor is supposed to swoop down and deal with it but what happens if something breaks out in Brooklyn a week later and it breaks in Syracuse–how is this person supposed to tell the folks up in Buffalo, ‘Hold on, I’ll be back, I’ve gotta go to Brooklyn?'” Mr. Thompson continued.
Mr. Thompson is now in the spotlight after grand juries failed to indict police in the cases of Garner and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. because he empaneled a grand jury to decide whether a unarmed Brooklyn man shot to death by a police officer last month should be indicted. Akai Gurley, 28, was walking in the darkened stairwell of a public housing when a rookie police officer, Peter Liang, shot and killed him. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton called the shooting an accident but the family of Gurley wants a homicide charge.
“As the duly-elected district attorney of Brooklyn, I am more than able to thoroughly and fairly investigate any fatality of an unarmed civilian by a police officer,” Mr. Thompson said.