EDITORIAL: Have state attorney general handle police prosecutions

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Categories: Editorial, Opinion

Just because the former Rensselaer County district attorney was cleared Thursday of all charges related to his handling of a police shooting of a civilian, it doesn’t justify his decision to prosecute the case in the first place.

In truth, the fact that criminal case was brought against him at all makes it even more clear that whenever a police officer is charged in the death of a civilian, the state attorney general’s office needs to step in and take over the case from the local district attorney.

Joel Abelove was cleared by a Columbia County judge of all charges relating to his conduct in which it was alleged he steered a grand jury proceeding so as to clear a Troy police sergeant in the fatal shooting of 37-year-old Edson Thevenin in April 2016.

The case against Abelove alleged he rushed the shooting before a grand jury, withheld critical evidence from grand jurors that might have supported criminal charges against the sergeant, and granted the sergeant immunity from prosecution so he couldn’t be charged in the death.

State prosecutors termed the DA’s efforts in the case “half-baked rush job that didn’t even bear a slight significance to a search for the truth.”

Police and prosecutors are perceived to be part of the same team when it comes to arresting and prosecuting criminal suspects.

So when questions arise about the criminal conduct of a police officer in the death of a civilian, the district attorney who relies on police to provide them with evidence and support in prosecutions understandably would seem to favor the police officer.

While the judge in this case didn’t convict the DA, the fact that legitimate questions were even raised about the prosecutor’s conduct in relation to his handling of the police shooting underscores the fact that DAs can’t be allowed to handle such cases.

Take away the potential conflict of interest.

Take away the doubts of the families of victims in police shootings about whether the case was prosecuted fairly and aggressively.

Take away the suspicions of favoritism and the allegations the prosecutor tanked a case against an officer because of the symbiotic relationship between police and the district attorney’s office.

In other words, remove all doubt about whether justice was being served.

Even with this verdict, there are still doubts.

There didn’t have to be.

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