A judge dismissed the criminal indictment against Rensselaer County District Attorney Joel Abelove regarding his handling of an investigation of a police shooting, finding that the New York Attorney General’s Office lacked jurisdiction to prosecute a perjury charge against him.
Abelove had been charged with two counts of official misconduct and one count of perjury for allegedly withholding evidence from a grand jury that cleared a Troy, New York, police officer in the 2016 shooting death of Edson Thevenin during a traffic stop that resulted in a vehicle pursuit.
The case was the first and only time that the Attorney General’s Office has brought charges against a DA since Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order in 2015 giving the attorney general the authority to act as a special prosecutor in cases where police cause the death of an unarmed civilian.
In a ruling issued Monday, Columbia County Court Judge Jonathan Nichols found that the attorney general did not have the statutory authority to prosecute the perjury charge and thus was not authorized to appear before the grand jury.
The judge said the attorney general’s unauthorized presence before the grand jury warranted dismissal of the full indictment, as the evidence presented for perjury and misconduct were “inextricably intertwined.”
But Nichols noted that the office was still within its jurisdiction to appear before the grand jury on the misconduct charges, which he said were based on a “legally cognizable theory,” and which presented the unique situation in which it was “concurrently authorized and unauthorized” to present to the body.
William Dreyer of Dreyer Boyajian represents Abelove. In a video posted by the Albany Times-Union following Nichols’ ruling, Abelove told reporters that the prosecution was an attempted “political hit job” by former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who left office in May amid allegations of physical abuse of women.
“To know that this fiasco that the attorney general has initiated against me is now over is a tremendous relief,” Abelove said.
Appearing for the Attorney General’s Office in the case were Jennifer Sommers and Nicholas Viorst, deputy chiefs of the attorney general’s Special Investigations & Prosecution Unit, which was created after Cuomo issued the executive order.
Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, said the office disagrees with Nichols’ decision and is “determining how best to move this critical case forward.”
“Our indictment detailed a disturbing pattern of misconduct that violated the law and undermined a criminal investigation,” she said.