Rensselaer County District Attorney Joel Abelove is now charged with mishandling a fatal police-involved shooting from 2016.
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman convened a grand jury in the case, and Abelove now faces two counts of official misconduct and one count of first-degree perjury.
Abelove has pleaded not guilty to all counts, and was released on his own recognizance.
The indictment alleges that Abelove quickly presented the case to a grand jury, all while the state attorney general's office was still trying to determine whether the case fell into its jurisdiction.
An executive order from the Governor Andrew Cuomo's office had previously stipulated that all fatal police involved shootings of unarmed people had to be looked into by the state AG's office.
According to this indictment, Abelove knowingly circumvented this process, presenting the case to a grand jury without Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's approval. It also alleges that Abelove knowingly withheld evidence from the grand jury, and gave the officer involved in the shooting immunity before the grand jury even voted. Abelove countered that Edson Thevenin was not "unarmed," since police reported he had used a vehicle to threaten their safety.
The grand jury heard the attorney general's case against Abelove, accusing the first-term prosecutor of improper conduct in April 2016.
Abelove took over the investigation after a Troy police sergeant shot and killed Thevenin, during an altercation on Hoosick Street. Police said the 37-year-old Thevenin, who was shot while sitting in his car, had used the vehicle as a battering ram and attempted to run down at least one officer.
After his court appearance, Abelove made a statement denying any wrongdoing, and spoke about the long, drawn out process leading up to his indictment, which he referred to as a "spectacle."
"As you know I've had no advance notice of this indictment. Once I review the charges with my attorneys, I will be in a better position to comment on them. Nevertheless, I'm familiar with the subject matter of the attorney general's investigation and I want to assure the residents of Rensselaer County, that I have acted properly and within my authority, and I have done nothing wrong," Abelove said.
Schneiderman says there is no doubt Abelove's actions violated the law and undermined a criminal investigation. He released this statement saying:
“The governor’s executive order was designed to restore public confidence in our criminal justice system -- yet the actions we detail today only served to further erode that confidence.
My office will continue to work collaboratively with law enforcement agencies across the state to ensure fair, independent investigations of every case within our jurisdiction, so that families like the Thevenins get the answers they deserve.”
Abelove is now the first district attorney in New York indicted for disobeying that executive order.
The case is high-profile enough to attract the attention of civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton, whose National Action Network issued this statement:
“The announcement by Attorney General Schneiderman on the indictment of Joel Abelove is unprecedented and a huge deal for those of us that have called for fairness and action on police-related crimes. I cannot recall when a prosecutor has been indicted for withholding evidence on a police matter. This is a big step in the right direction and the Attorney General should be saluted for having the courage to protect citizens not only from bad cops, but bad prosecutors as well."