A New York sheriff on Friday defended his decision to file a criminal complaint against former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo without consulting prosecutors or the accuser, a woman who says the Democrat groped her late last year.
But Sheriff Craig Apple said he was confident in the strength of the case, which he said was based on witness interviews and voluminous records.
“I feel very confident that the district attorney is going to prosecute this,” he told reporters at a news conference in Albany, the state capital.
A court summons requires Cuomo to appear for an arraignment on Nov. 17, though that date could change.
He will be allowed to report voluntarily, but Undersheriff William Rice told The Associated Press the ex-governor will be booked at the sheriff’s headquarters, including being photographed, fingerprinted and probably placed in handcuffs during a transport to court. Cuomo will not likely spend any time in a holding cell, Rice said.
The one-page complaint filed in Albany City Court accuses Cuomo of forcible touching by putting his hand under a woman’s shirt on Dec. 7.
The complaint did not name the woman, but she has identified herself as Brittany Commisso, who worked as one of Cuomo’s executive assistants before he resigned amid sexual harassment allegations in August.
Forcible touching is a misdemeanor in New York, punishable by up to a year in jail, though many cases for first-time offenders are resolved with probation or a shorter jail sentence.
After the charge was filed, the Albany County District Attorney’s Office said that it had not been informed ahead of time. It has been conducting its own investigation and was expected to take the lead on a decision about whether to prosecute.
Commisso’s lawyer, Brian Premo, said he had also expected the district attorney’s office to handle the case.
“I have no doubt that the sheriff’s investigators did a thorough job,” Premo told Albany radio station Talk 1300. “I have no doubt that they believe in their case. I have no issue with any of that. It’s just that this is a politically charged matter, right? … So I think it’s only prudent to allow the prosecutorial authority to have a say in how the investigation is conducted and whether there’s a prosecution, right?”
In an interview earlier in the day with Talk 1300, the sheriff said it was “disheartening” that the court system made the criminal complaint public immediately, something he described as a “leak,” although such court filings are public in New York and are routinely made available to reporters.
“We didn’t want everybody to know exactly what we were doing because we didn’t want all this, the circus,” Apple said on the radio program, as he sought to explain the confusion over the complaint’s filing Thursday.
“We weren’t expecting a five-minute turnaround” for the court to decide whether to issue a summons or a warrant, he said later, adding that the confusion would have no effect on a “solid case.”
The sheriff said he would have liked to have had “a deeper conversation” with the district attorney and a chance to reach out to Cuomo’s attorney.
He commended his investigators, saying “they took a very high-profile investigation and decided to break it down.”
He said it was commonplace for the sheriff’s office to file misdemeanor charges in the city court without first consulting with the district attorney’s office.
Commisso accused Cuomo of groping her when they were alone in an office at the governor’s mansion in Albany. Cuomo has denied the allegations.
The AP does not identify alleged sexual assault victims unless they decide to tell their stories publicly, as Commisso has done.
The former governor’s attorney, Rita Glavin, reasserted the governor’s denial and said the sheriff’s filing of the criminal complaint was politically motivated. She cited Friday’s announcement by state Attorney General Letitia James that she will run for governor.
“The timing of this charge, on the eve of Tish James announcing her run for governor, is highly suspect and should give all of us pause that the heavy hand of politics is behind this decision,” Glavin said.
James oversaw a civil investigation into Cuomo’s conduct with women, but she was not involved in the sheriff’s criminal probe.
Apple insisted that politics played no part in the investigation. The sheriff and the attorney general are both Democrats, as is District Attorney David Soares.
“We expect clear-headed people will make better decisions going forward,” 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.”