- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 15, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has authorized local prosecutors to start investigations when police kill unarmed civilians but he prohibited them from giving immunity to any witnesses.

Schneiderman, appointed state special investigator and prosecutor in police killings, outlined that authority in a letter this week to the 62 county district attorneys. They are authorized to question witnesses, draft search warrants, preserve evidence and support any investigation.

However, without special authorization, they cannot elicit related testimony before grand juries, which typically involves immunity from prosecution. They also cannot make plea or cooperation agreements with suspects.

The attorney general was given his new authority by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week following recent killings of civilians by police who weren’t indicted. Cuomo cited the issue of real or perceived conflicts of interest for county district attorneys prosecuting police with whom they work.

Schneiderman said he was responding to local prosecutors’ concerns about the crucial investigation time right after an incident and uncertainty over jurisdiction and transferring cases.

Five of the attorney general’s staff have been appointed to pursue cases where an unarmed civilian is killed by a law enforcement officer or when there’s a question of whether the person was armed and dangerous at the time.

Families of young men killed in police confrontations urged Cuomo to make the appointment. Among them was the mother of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died after a videotaped police chokehold. The city reached a $5.9 million settlement with Garner’s family over his July 2014 death.

Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan presented the evidence in the case to a grand jury that indicted no officers, leading to public protests in December. Donovan was elected to Congress in May.

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