NEW YORK CITY — The governor's comments Thursday urging New York City district attorneys to charge looters and hold them for bail has created a firestorm from local groups that say he's encouraging DAs to overcharge suspects and hold them unlawfully.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday city DAs should charge alleged looters with second degree robbery in order to hold them for bail.
"And, to the New York City district attorneys, you look at these videos, it would be nonsensical if the police were arresting looters and they were then being arrested and returned to the street the next day to loot again," Cuomo said. "That would be nonsensical, right.
"You look at these videos, burglary two can be burglary with a dangerous instrument like a pipe, like a crowbar, like a rock, like a brick. But, if you have looters who are using rocks, breaking windows, stealing, these people should be charged for the crime that they are committing and bail set, right? I understand the political environment. I also understand that the law is the law, and they should charge crimes appropriately," he said.
Multiple legal voices, including the group that represents DAs, said these crimes are not at the standard of second degree robbery, and based on recent bail reforms, should not be held for bail.
Several legal defense groups called it an effort to circumvent the law and unlawfully detain protesters.
"Already, there is a backlog of hundreds of New Yorkers who are being illegally held because the NYPD refuses to issue Desk Appearance Tickets in lieu of arrests or complete the paperwork necessary to arraign them, despite the fact that the state requires a court appearance within 24 hours of arrest."
The statement was released by Brooklyn Defender Services, The Bronx Defenders, Legal Aid, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, Queens Defenders and New York County Defender Services.
"It is also a naked attempt to lock up more Black and brown people at a moment in which New Yorkers are demanding justice for communities of color," the statement said.
The statement said Manhattan DA Cy Vance asked for Cuomo to for an order to allow for those suspected of looting to be detained.
While Vance's office would not confirm that to PIX11, they issued the following statement:
"To date the overwhelming majority of looting cases in Manhattan cannot be charged as Burglary in the Second Degree. The facts of those cases don’t support such a charge," said Danny Frost, Vance's communications director.
The defender coalition said Cuomo's comments came after Vance's request Wednesday.
"Gov. Cuomo’s response instructs District Attorneys to trump up charges and inflate allegations against New Yorkers in order to jail them. This blatant disregard for truth in prosecution is aberrant to the demand for a fair justice system that protesters are now demanding."
A group that represents DAs in New York seemed to agree that Cuomo's comments suggest overcharging, something they do not approve of.
"Any suggestion that prosecutors should knowingly charge an offense that the facts and circumstances do not support, or to put another way, 'overcharge,' would run afoul of the ethical obligations prosecutors are sworn to uphold," said David Hoovler, president of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York.
Protesters have taken to the streets nationwide after the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by police in Minneapolis.
Following days of large peaceful protests, there have been cases of rioting and looting in New York City at night.