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Post date: October 19 2018

Statement By A.G. Underwood On Grand Jury Decision Regarding The Death Of Andrew Kearse 


A.G. Urges Legislative Action to Make Systemic Reforms to How Medical Emergencies in Police Custody are Handled

NEW YORK – Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood released the following statement today:

“In July 2015, the Attorney General’s office was appointed as Special Prosecutor in cases where an unarmed civilian dies during an encounter with police. Pursuant to that authority, our Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit (SIPU) launched an investigation into the May 2017 death of Andrew Kearse in Schenectady.

After an exhaustive investigation, which we describe in detail in today’s report, we concluded that there was sufficient evidence that a crime had been committed to warrant a presentation to a grand jury. The grand jury, however, declined charges; we are prohibited by law from discussing what occurred in the grand jury.

Regardless of the grand jury’s decision, Mr. Kearse’s death was a tragedy that never should have happened, and reforms must be made to prevent similar future tragedies. To that end, we are urging crucial reforms to how police departments across the state handle medical emergencies.  

First, the state legislature should immediately act to ensure a uniform statewide policy for New York police departments that requires officers to treat breathing difficulties as medical emergencies, and departments to conduct training concerning that policy. I want to be clear: a complaint about breathing difficulties should not be dismissed because the arrestee is able to talk.

The Schenectady Police Department must also revise its policies concerning medical treatment of arrestees, who should receive emergency medical services whenever they are in need of such services, even if that need does not arise from an officer’s use of force. Finally, SPD should take steps to become a New York State-accredited law enforcement agency.

SIPU’s principal objective is to ensure truly independent investigations of incidents covered by Executive Order 147; we are also committed to bringing an unprecedented level of transparency to these investigations, in furtherance of our goal of strengthening the public trust in matters involving police-civilian encounters. As in all cases investigated by SIPU in which charges are not brought, our report details our investigative findings to provide Mr. Kearse’s family and the public with all available information and materials from our investigation.

Mr. Kearse’s death was a terrible tragedy and my heart is with his family. This should serve as a clarion call for the legislature and police departments across the state to make systemic reforms to how medical emergencies like this are handled -- so that no other family has to experience what Mr. Kearse’s has gone through.”