Siegel and Sen. Adams continue call for special independent prosecutor

Civil rights attorney Norman Siegel and State Senator Eric Adams D-Brooklyn continued to argue for a special independent prosecutor at an 80-strong community forum June 12, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. The pair have been calling for reform since the verdict of the Sean Bell trial in April.

The acquittal of the three officers threw light on what Siegel called a "built-in conflict of interest" between prosecuting local district attorneys and the police who are relied upon to gather evidence.

Adams argued there was no separation of powers between the judiciary, police and prosecutors, who are "cultivated in knowing what to do and when to do it" by relationships formed on golf courses and during offline conversations.

Since the verdict, there has been criticism of the prosecution's decision to read the officers' Grand Jury testimony into the record and not ask to include the lesser charge of criminal negligent homicide. The only three, on-duty New York police officers to have been found guilty of homicide, were found guilty of criminal negligent homicide and not murder or manslaughter, Siegel said.

Siegel advocated reforms to The Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), extending the 18 month statute of limitations on prosecutions and ensuring cases are complete before their expiration. He spoke of the weakness of CCRB caused by inappropriate mayoral appointments and called for it to reach out and engage with the people it served.

The continuing increase in the use of stop-and-frisk tactics by police officers also came under the spotlight. The May 5 police report on stop-and-frisk numbers recorded 145,000 New Yorkers were stopped and frisked in the first three months of this year, 8% up on the same period last year, but only 13% of stops resulted in a summons or arrest. Last month, a Manhattan judge ordered the NYPD to release an internal, electronic database of hundreds of thousands of street stops for review by civil liberties advocates for evidence of racial profiling. The data had already been reviewed by the RAND Corporation. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has yet to reply. Adams argued that "we have lost control of our police department.”

Adams, a former NYPD captain, said the stop-and-frisk tactics can be an effective policing tool, but were being misused and treated innocent citizens as "collateral damage." The tactics have become an embarrassment following a May 2 incident in which off-duty NYPD Chief Douglas Zeigler was stopped by two white police officers while sitting in a parked department SUV with ID around his neck.

Audience member and former Congressmen Major Owens asked what could be done to support the creation of a special independent prosecutor. Siegel reminded the audience Gov. David Paterson has the power to create a special prosecutor's office by executive order. In 1974, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller established a special prosecutor’s office with jurisdiction over police corruption. Organizations should invite Gov. Paterson to speak on the issue and then ask direct questions after his talk, requesting a commitment to action.

The forum was held at Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church, and was organized by Fort Greene Peace and co-sponsored by Brooklyn for Peace. A number of audience questions focused on screening and psychological testing, which Siegel had touched on in a list of additional reforms which included doubling the length of police training from six months to one year and increasing police starting pay.

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