Sheriff Says He Charged Cuomo Without Coordinating With Albany D.A.
The Albany County sheriff acknowledged on Friday that his office had not coordinated with the county’s district attorney before filing a criminal …
The Albany County sheriff acknowledged on Friday that his office had not coordinated with the county’s district attorney before filing a criminal complaint that charged former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who is accused of groping a female aide’s breast last year in the Executive Mansion, with a sex crime.
The move by the sheriff, Craig Apple, to file charges independently of the district attorney was unusual, especially in such a high-profile and explosive investigation, and it raised questions about the viability of the case.
It was still unclear on Friday whether the district attorney, David Soares, whose office said it learned of the complaint from news reports on Thursday, was going to prosecute the charges against the former governor.
What did become clearer was the haphazard nature by which the misdemeanor charge against Mr. Cuomo was suddenly made public on Thursday afternoon, without the knowledge of the aide, Brittany Commisso; Mr. Cuomo or his lawyer; and even the sheriff.
“We kind of got sandbagged ourselves and I kind of felt bad about the way that it all happened,” Sheriff Apple said at a news conference on Friday afternoon. “But the way that it went down has nothing to do with the case. The case is a very solid case.”
The sheriff did not divulge many details about his office’s investigation, but he said it was based on interviews, search warrants and a review of “hundreds if not thousands of documents.”
His inquiry, he said, was separate from one being conducted by Mr. Soares’ investigators, adding that he had received assistance from the state attorney general’s office and outside lawyers hired by the State Assembly. Both entities have investigated the sexual harassment claims leveled against Mr. Cuomo, the once-fearsome three-term governor.
While the evidence from the sheriff’s office has not been made public, the complaint said the materials included a text message from Mr. Cuomo’s cellphone, messages from the BlackBerry devices of State Police troopers and swipe-card entry records from the State Capitol.
The evidence, the sheriff said, is meant to substantiate Ms. Commisso’s account that Mr. Cuomo groped her in the governor’s residence in December, as opposed to November, as the attorney general report had originally suggested.
The date of the alleged incident has been the source of intense dispute; Ms. Commisso originally told investigators she could not recall the exact date, but the sheriff’s office has determined it occurred on Dec. 7, apparently based on new evidence it unearthed.
Mr. Cuomo’s lawyer, Rita Glavin, has pointed to that discrepancy in her repeated attempts to cast doubt on Ms. Commisso’s allegation, which Ms. Glavin has described as an “evolving version of events.” Mr. Cuomo has repeatedly denied ever touching Ms. Commisso inappropriately.
Mr. Cuomo was charged with forcible touching, a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to one year in jail. Mr. Cuomo, who faced multiple sexual harassment allegations when he resigned in August, was summoned to be arraigned in Albany court on Nov. 17.
But Mr. Cuomo’s upcoming arraignment was overshadowed on Friday by questions about how the criminal complaint was handled, with some reports suggesting that it was filed erroneously or prematurely. The confusion helped fuel speculation that Mr. Apple’s decision may have been influenced by politics, insinuations that were amplified by Mr. Cuomo and his allies as they sought to fend off the charge.
Mr. Apple, a Democrat who was first elected sheriff in 2011, defended his office’s work on Friday, saying that the complaint stemmed from a monthslong investigation his office conducted into Ms. Commisso’s complaint after she reported the alleged assault in August.
Mr. Apple insisted it was typical for his office to proceed with a misdemeanor charge without conferring with the district attorney’s office. Explaining the series of events during a news conference, Mr. Apple said one of his investigators had gone to the Albany City Court on Thursday to file the complaint.
He said the court usually took some time to review the paperwork before issuing a summons or a warrant for an arrest, but that, in this instance, the court issued a criminal summons for Mr. Cuomo’s arraignment within minutes. As a result, he said, he did not have enough time to inform prosecutors and Mr. Cuomo’s personal lawyer about the complaint before it became public.
“This just came back at a relatively accelerated rate and kind of caught us by surprise as well,” Mr. Apple said, adding that, “sometimes in police work, with investigations, things don’t go how you want them.”
Mr. Soares will now have to decide whether to go forward with what will almost certainly be a difficult case to prove, and he will be under significant pressure. Indeed, Mr. Apple on Friday appeared to put the ball in Mr. Soares’s court, saying, “I feel very confident that the district attorney is going to prosecute this.”
A spokeswoman for Mr. Soares, who is also a Democrat, said the district attorney’s office recognized that Mr. Cuomo’s case was “a matter of great public interest,” but would not confirm if the office planned to prosecute him.
“At this time we are refraining from making any additional comments or engaging in interviews about the court filings made by the Albany County sheriff’s office,” Cecilia Walsh, the director of communications for the Albany district attorney’s office, said in an emailed statement.
Lawyers and academics said that Mr. Apple’s decision to proceed with a charge without input from the district attorney’s office was well outside the norm. Typically, in long-term investigations, particularly high-stakes ones, law enforcement authorities would work closely with local prosecutors, given that the prosecutors handle the case once the legal proceeding is initiated.
E. Stewart Jones Jr., a criminal defense lawyer based in Troy, N.Y., said in an interview that the apparent lack of coordination between Mr. Apple and Mr. Soares was highly unusual.
“An awful lot depends upon what actually went down between the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office,” he said, adding that if Mr. Apple was taking the position that involving the district attorney’s office would have shut down his investigation, “that’s a pretty dangerous position to take and I think pretty unfair to the district attorney’s office.”
Brian Premo, the lawyer representing Ms. Commisso, strongly suggested that while his client had been “surprised” by the complaint, she was willing to cooperate as a witness if the case were to proceed.
“It was my client’s understanding that the district attorney’s office was going to basically lead a thorough and apolitical investigation into the matter and then discuss all the issues with my client, and then my client would give her informed consent,” Mr. Premo told WGDJ-AM, an Albany radio station.
“It was our understanding that the sheriff was in agreement with that process, so she was just surprised by how it came about and what had occurred,” he said.
He added, however, that Ms. Commisso “has been and always will be a cooperative victim, and she just wants justice.” He noted that she had already sat down for hours of interviews with the attorney general’s investigators, the sheriff’s office and lawyers for the State Assembly.
Ms. Commisso’s account was one of the most serious allegations detailed in the Aug. 3 report released by the state attorney general, Letitia James, following a five-month long investigation led by a team of outside lawyers.
Ms. Commisso has said that Mr. Cuomo reached under her blouse and grabbed her left breast while they were alone on the second floor of the Executive Mansion in Albany late last year. For their part, Mr. Cuomo and his defenders have characterized the investigation overseen by Ms. James’s office as politically motivated and meant to advance her political ambitions.
On Friday afternoon, hours after Ms. James officially declared her candidacy for governor, Mr. Cuomo’s lawyer described the timing of Mr. Apple’s complaint and Ms. James’s announcement as “highly suspect,” saying it “should give all of us pause that the heavy hand of politics is behind this decision.”
“We expect clearheaded people will make better decisions going forward,” Ms. Glavin said in a statement. “But should this case move forward we are prepared to vigorously defend the governor and challenge every aspect of the specious, inconsistent and uncorroborated allegations made against him.”
Mr. Apple called the accusations from the governor’s team “ridiculous,” adding that he had not discussed the filing of his complaint with anybody beyond his staff.
“I’ve been accused on Twitter all night about this being a political hit job,” he said. “Why? How is the Albany County sheriff doing a political hit job? That is ridiculous. We are an apolitical organization.”