Leave it to the DA: No reason to hand Garner case to feds
By Councilman Vincent Ignizio
Last week, the Rev. Al Sharpton took Police Commissioner William Bratton to task for suggesting that race was not a factor in the Eric Garner incident.
Yet one has to ask if race is a factor in Sharpton and others’ attempts to remove this case from its rightful jurisdiction. Because I can’t find any other justification for taking it out of the hands of Staten Island DA Daniel Donovan.
Donovan’s integrity, competence and experience as district attorney are well documented and unquestioned.
His 25-year career in public service includes eight years under legendary Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau, where he served as senior trial counsel in the Special Narcotics Prosecutors Office.
His office has successfully prosecuted thousands of criminal cases — including cases against police officers — without fear or favor. His office also has the highest conviction rate of the city’s five DAs.
Some complain that Donovan’s office hasn’t moved to arrest the officers involved in the Garner incident, implying that he’s wavering or somehow unqualified to handle this case. Others call for an expeditious and transparent investigation.
Both charges miss the point.
Investigations and grand jury proceedings are, by nature, secretive, and must remain so as to not compromise the integrity of any criminal case.
They should be as expeditious as possible, but not at the expense of being thorough.
It would be a grave miscarriage of justice, for both the victim and any potential defendant, if the DA were to hastily move forward just to satisfy the whims of the masses.
Also, suggesting that Donovan has a conflict of interest because the man who took the video of Garner’s arrest, Ramsey Orta, has been arrested himself is absurd on its face.
Were every DA in New York to recuse him- or herself from a case in which a key witness has a criminal history or open criminal cases, they’d have very few cases left to prosecute.
And, while I don’t believe Orta’s arrest or criminal record are germane to the Garner incident, moving the case to federal jurisdiction wouldn’t prevent a defense attorney from trying to prove it is, nor from attacking Orta’s credibility.
Whether a defendant’s or a witness’ previous “bad acts” are relevant or can be brought up in trial are issues for a judge to decide — and those decisions are so commonplace in the state court system it’s barely worth mentioning.
I’ve watched the confrontation between Eric Garner and the police on video probably a dozen times now.
I’m saddened by it, and my heart goes out to his family and loved ones, who are destined to relive this incident over and over again as this case unfolds in a very public and often ugly manner.
At the same time, I’m keenly aware that being a police officer in New York City is an incredibly difficult and complex job, and I am extremely grateful that the NYPD does it well.
While there is no “magic solution” to both preventing crime and making everyone happy, I firmly believe the law-enforcement practices known as “Broken Windows” policing are key to a civil and safe community.
But that’s a separate debate. What shouldn’t be up for debate, despite blatant attempts by some to venue shop and to taint a potential jury pool, is whether this case should remain in the capable hands of Dan Donovan.
It’s in the best interests of everyone involved that we allow the justice system to run its course — and the DA to do the job the people elected him to do.
Justice is not decided by public demonstrations or newspaper headlines. It is neither convenient, nor easy, nor perfect.
Ultimately, it should be dispensed by a jury of citizens, who will have the responsibility to hear the facts in an impartial and dispassionate manner before deciding guilt or innocence.
Vincent M. Ignizio (R-SI) is the minority leader of the City Council.