• Press Release

New York: Appointment of Special Prosecutor on Police-Civilian Deaths A Positive Step, Further Reform Needed

July 9, 2015

Amnesty International USA welcomes reports that New York governor Andrew Cuomo will appoint a special prosecutor for police-civilian deaths:
“Amnesty International has repeatedly called for prompt, independent and impartial investigations of the use of force by law enforcement, followed, as necessary, by prosecution. 
We are encouraged by additional measures toward oversight and accountability for the use of force by law enforcement.
We further call on New York to enact legislation that would make permanent and extend such oversight to all instances where force is used against civilians, not only when the individual is unarmed."
Amnesty International USA also repeats its call for New York to amend its law on the use of lethal force to align with international and domestic standards on the use of lethal force.
“Without laws that enshrine respect for human rights –including by establishing that lethal force must only be used in exceptional circumstances as a matter of last resort, when strictly necessary to protect against an imminent threat of death or serious injury, and when all other non-violent and less harmful means have been exhausted—no state can appropriately address the problem of police-civilian violence. 
New York’s existing law on use of lethal force by police fails to comply with international law or even the lower U.S. constitutional standards on the use of lethal force by law enforcement officers. We call on New York to immediately review and reform its laws and policies to ensure compliance with international human rights standards.”
In a report published last month, Amnesty International USA called for national action based on its findings that all fifty states and Washington, D.C. fail to comply with international human rights laws and standards on the use of lethal force. Additional findings include:
  • New York is one of 13 states with laws that do NOT comply even with the lower standards set by US constitutional law on the use of lethal force by law enforcement officers set out in Tennessee v. Garner. (The other states are Alabama; California; Delaware; Florida; Mississippi; Missouri; Montana; New Jersey; Oregon; Rhode Island; South Dakota; and Vermont).
  • New York is one of 42 states that does NOT require that a warning be given (where feasible) before lethal force is used. (The only states that meet these standards are: Connecticut; Florida, Indiana; Nevada; New Mexico; Tennessee; Utah and Washington. However, no state meets the requirement for a warning under international standards.)
  • New York, along with 46 other states and Washington, D.C., does NOT require officers create no “substantial risk” to bystanders when using lethal force.
  • New York is one of 20 states that authorizes officers to kill a person who is attempting to escape from prison or in apprehending someone who has already escaped without requiring the escapee to present any threat to the officer or the public whatsoever. (The others are Alabama; Colorado; Delaware; Georgia; Hawaii; Indiana; Kentucky; Maine; Mississippi; Montana; Nebraska; New Hampshire; New Jersey; North Carolina; North Dakota; Oklahoma; Pennsylvania; South Dakota and Washington.)
  • New York is one of 20 states that allow for private citizens (non-state actors) to use lethal force if they carry out law enforcement activities, for example assisting an officer in making an arrest. (The others are Alabama; Arizona; California; Colorado; Connecticut; Indiana; Kansas; Kentucky; Louisiana; Maine; Mississippi; Nebraska; New Hampshire; New Jersey; North Dakota; Pennsylvania; South Dakota; Texas and Washington).