Albany, NY - A New York prosecutor has been criminally charged, accused of withholding evidence from a grand jury investigation into a fatal police shooting, and committing perjury about how his office handled other police shooting cases.
On Friday, Dec. 1, prosecutors from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office charged Rensselaer County District Attorney Joel Abelove with two counts of official misconduct and one count of perjury in the first degree, according to The New York Times.
The charges surrounded the fatal shooting of Edson Thevenin by Troy Police Sergeant Randall French on April 17, 2016.
Sgt. French stopped Thevenin on suspicion of drunk driving, but Thevenin took off and led police on a chase.
At the end of the chase, Thevenin crushed Sgt. French’s legs between his cruiser and Thevenin’s vehicle, and Sgt. French shot him eight times through the windshield.
State prosecutors said they were looking into the police-involved shooting when Abelove sent the case to a grand jury.
The shooting case was Abelove's jurisdiction, but in 2015, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered the Attorney General's Office to investigate police-involved civilian deaths, and Abelove essentially ignored them.
The Governor's order was a reaction to the Staten Island prosecutors’ failure to obtain an indictment against Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner, according to the New York Daily News.
Schneiderman said that Abelove withheld evidence leading to "the inevitable and intended result that no charges were brought."
Schneiderman also accused Abelove of giving Sgt. French immunity before the grand jury voted, effectively deciding that the shooting was justified before sending it to the grand jury.
Afterward, Schneiderman's office convened a special grand jury to examine how Abelove handled the case.
The indictment against Abelove said he also lied about another immunity case in a separate grand jury in October. He was asked if another police officer received immunity for an unrelated shooting like Sgt. French did, and testified that the other officer did have immunity, even though he knew the other officer had waived immunity.
"As we allege, District Attorney Abelove's actions violated the law and undermined a criminal investigation. The governor's executive order was designed to restore public confidence in our criminal justice system, yet the actions we detail today only served to further erode that confidence," Schneiderman said in a statement.
Governor Cuomo's spokesman, Richard Azzopardi, said that the governor's team would be examining the case to determine "potential next steps", which could include Abelove's removal from office.
"The integrity of the district attorney's office is paramount, and the allegations laid out here are disturbing,” Azzopardi said.
Since the governor's executive order went into effect, Schneiderman's office has conducted 13 investigations into fatal shootings by police. Six of those cases have been closed without action against the police officers, and six remain open, including Sgt. French's case.
One officer was charged for an off-duty shooting – New York Police Department Officer Wayne Isaacs – but he was acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges in November.
Abelove, a Republican who was elected in 2014, was arraigned on Dec. 1. He pleaded not guilty, and was released on his own recognizance.
After the arraignment, Abelove announced that he planned to stay as District Attorney, and that he would beat the charges.