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State AG investigating Schenectady police custody death

State AG investigating Schenectady police custody death

Involvement had been anticipated
State AG investigating Schenectady police custody death
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman during a news conference in New York on Oct. 13, 2015.
Photographer: Sam Hodgson/The New York Times

SCHENECTADY — The state Attorney General's Office is investigating the death of a New York City man while in police custody last month.

The investigation concerns the May 11 death of Andrew Kearse, who city police said complained of breathing problems after his arrest, fell unconscious soon after and died at Ellis Hospital.

"The attorney general's Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit has opened an investigation into the death of Andrew Kearse, pursuant to the attorney general's authority under Executive Order No. 147," said Amy Spitalnick, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's press secretary, in a prepared statement. "We're committed to conducting an independent, comprehensive and fair investigation."

Kearse, 36, of the Bronx died early that evening after leading officers on a brief foot chase, city police said.

He complained of breathing problems and feeling dizzy en route to police headquarters, and was unresponsive when officers arrived at the station. City police said they immediately called paramedics. 

Susan Perry, who described Kearse as her boyfriend, was arrested along with Kearse and was taken separately to the station. She alleges that police delayed summoning medical care for Kearse, believing he was faking.

City police quickly turned over the investigation into why and how Kearse died to state police, an outside agency. City Police Chief Eric Clifford has said the department is cooperating fully.

On Wednesday, Clifford called the attorney general's move expected and one of the reasons the department asked state police to investigate Kearse's death.

"We knew that there would be a review by the Attorney General's Office," Clifford said. "It's expected and I have full confidence that the investigation that state police have conducted is going to be thorough enough to be sufficient for them."

The move also comes after Kearse's family members and supporters have made calls on the attorney general to take the case.

Hawk Newsome, of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, welcomed the decision Wednesday. Newsome led a protest May 26 outside the attorney general's New York City offices calling for the office to step in.

"We're glad he responded," Newsome said.

Newsome said investigations like Kearse's need outside oversight to ensure an impartial investigation. He added the family has received little information thus far.

"We sincerely hope that (the attorney general) will give the answers to the family that they need," Newsome said.

The 2-year-old executive order used to let the attorney general investigate was signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and authorized the Attorney General's Office to investigate and prosecute cases that involve the deaths of unarmed suspects in confrontations with police. Cuomo issued the order following the 2014 death of Eric Garner, who died after being placed in a chokehold during his arrest on Staten Island. The officers in that case were not charged.

An attorney representing the officers involved in the Kearse case said Wednesday that, from their perspective, who investigates doesn't change things.

Andrew Safranko argued the officers did everything by the book and they acted appropriately.

"We're fully expecting that after the attorney general completes his investigation that every officer will be exonerated and he will find that there was absolutely no wrongdoing by any member of the Schenectady Police Department."

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