ALBANY (CN) – New York’s attorney general announced criminal charges against an upstate New York county district attorney related to his alleged mishandling of a police shooting that left a drunken-driving suspect dead and the officer off the hook.
In Rennsselaer County Court, the county’s district attorney Joel Abelove pleaded not guilty Friday afternoon to two misdemeanor counts of official misconduct and one felony count of perjury related to his handling of the investigation into the April 2016 death of Edson Thevenin. Troy police officer Sgt. Randall French shot and killed Thevenin in the midst of a car chase.
Citing violations of legal and ethical obligations, the New York Attorney General’s Office wrote in a statement that Abelove, a first-term Republican DA, withheld material evidence from the grand jury investigation of the incident, “effectively co-opting its ability to make an informed decision about the matter – with the inevitable and intended result that no charges were brought against French.”
The misconduct charges accuse Abelove of deliberately failing to secure a waiver of immunity from French as a condition of his testifying before the grand jury, “seeking to protect French from any potential future prosecution in the Thevenin shooting.”
French, who remains on administrative leave, allegedly fired eight shots at the unarmed Thevenin’s sedan while the officer was pinned between his cruiser and Thevenin’s car.
In his announcement of Friday’s indictment, Schneiderman wrote: “My office will continue to work collaboratively with law enforcement agencies across the state, including district attorneys, to ensure fair, comprehensive, and independent investigations of every case within our jurisdiction, so that families like the Thevenins get the answers they deserve.”
Friday’s indictment comes 10 months after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order giving Schneiderman’s office the authority to conduct a public corruption probe of Abelove’s conduct, including his decision to hastily present the case to a grand jury that cleared French of wrongdoing less than a week after the shooting.
Prompted by the popular outcry over the deaths of civilians killed by police officers, particularly the nonindictment of police officers involved in the death of Eric Garner, Executive Order No. 147 appointed the New York state attorney general as a special prosecutor in matters relating to the deaths of unarmed civilians caused by law enforcement officers.
“The Governor’s Executive Order was designed to restore public confidence in our criminal justice system – yet the actions we detail today only served to further erode that confidence,” Schneiderman said.
Schneiderman, who portrayed the order as a response “to the crisis in confidence related to the investigation of deaths of unarmed civilians at the hands of police,” wrote in his announcement: “I can imagine no more important responsibility, and my office will handle these cases with the highest level of care, professionalism, and independence.”
In March 2017, Abelove attempted to halt the investigation by filing suit against the attorney general, arguing that Executive Order No. 147 was unconstitutional. The New York Supreme Court rejected Abelove’s claims and dismissed the suit in full in an August 2017 ruling. Abelove’s attorney, John Bailey, has insisted that his client committed no wrongdoing. “He was told by the AG the morning of the shooting they were not going to assert jurisdiction,” Bailey told the Times Union. “He proceeded with his investigation and he presented the matter to a grand jury. … Randy French was within maybe split seconds of losing his life and he had to make a split-second decision, which he did.”
Bailey did not respond to a request for comment.
Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit Chiefs Jennifer Sommers and Nick Viorst are handing the New York attorney general’s investigation.