Could disgraced attorney general be charged with a crime?
NEW YORK (AP) — Detailed accusations that state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman abused women were enough to force him to resign, but are they enough to charge him with a crime?
Investigators say they are just beginning to look into the allegations made by four women who told The New Yorker magazine they were slapped, choked and verbally abused by the Schneiderman, often during sexual intercourse. The women strongly rejected the Democratic politician’s explanation that any abuse was the result of consensual, intimate “role-playing.”
One of the women told the magazine Schneiderman hit her so hard her ear bled, and another said he left on her face a mark that was still visible the next day. At least one said she took a photo of her injury.
The chief of detectives for the New York Police Department, Dermot Shea, said investigators would interview the women in detail, but he couldn’t say whether any charges would result.
Legal experts say that based on the stories, the most likely charge would be a lower-level assault. And since Schneiderman was accused of choking at least one woman, he could potentially be prosecuted under a 2010 law he helped pass, which made choking a misdemeanor. The statute of limitations is two years to bring charges for such crimes.
Strangulation or an assault that causes a serious physical injury has a five-year window to bring charges.
If investigators find evidence Schneiderman verbally abused someone but did not cause visible physical injury, it would be considered harassment, a violation that has a statute of limitations of one year. That could come into play because some of the abuse the women allege happened in 2016 and possibly earlier.
Another complication is that the women didn’t go to the police at the time, which is common among victims of domestic violence.
“People think it’s so simple to leave. But it’s really very complicated,” said Judy Harris Kluger, a former sex crimes prosecutor and current executive director of Sanctuary for Families, which aids domestic-violence victims. “Let’s start holding the men accountable and stop saying, ‘Why don’t the women walk away?’”
She noted that there’s an added stigma of violence that occurs during sex: Women often feel as though they can’t say anything in the moment and are embarrassed later by what happened.
On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he was taking the case away from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. and was appointing a special prosecutor, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas. All three are Democrats.
Cuomo’s decision came about seven weeks after he asked the attorney general’s office to look into how Vance handled a 2015 harassment investigation against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein that resulted in no criminal charges. Both moves were highly unusual, and some critics have accused Cuomo of meddling in the work of independent prosecutors for political gain.
On Tuesday, Cuomo said he appointed the special prosecutor because “I don’t even want the whiff of the perception of conflict of interest or impropriety.”
Vance strongly objected.
“Charging and jurisdictional decision making should be left to independent prosecutors who are answerable to their local constituents,” Vance wrote. “Interference with law enforcement investigations by an elected chief executive should always be viewed with great care, especially these days, given the propensity of our elected executive at the federal level in Washington to make statements and take actions that jeopardize the independence of our criminal justice system.”
The governor’s counsel, Alphonso David, issued a scathing response Wednesday, accusing Vance of a “blatant conflict of interest.”
“Your original actions and omissions in the Harvey Weinstein matter caused the distrust of women’s organizations,” he wrote. “That distrust is your creation, not ours.”
Schneiderman’s resignation Monday night, just three hours after The New Yorker’s story appeared, was a stunningly swift fall for a politician who put himself at the forefront of the #MeToo movement and had cast himself as a defender of women. His accusers said the hypocrisy of his speaking out on such issues was part of what pushed them to come forward.
Schneiderman, a frequent critic of President Donald Trump, has denied abusing anyone. His attorney, Isabelle A. Kirshner, declined to comment.
The 63-year-old Schneiderman, who is divorced and has a daughter, emerged from his Manhattan apartment building Wednesday for the first time since the scandal broke. He rushed through a pack of news photographers, telling them, “Thank you. Have a nice day.”
Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.