New York sheriff defends decision to charge Cuomo
Clarksville, N.Y. — 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 informing the accuser, a woman who says she was groped by the Democrat last year.
Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said in a radio interview that he did not intend for the criminal charge to become public so soon, but he said the case should go forward.
“We didn’t want everybody to know exactly what we were doing because we didn’t want all this, the circus,” Craig said in an interview with radio host Paul Vandenburgh of Albany's Talk 1300.
Nevertheless, he added: “We have the facts of the investigation and the criminal summons was issued. So on November 17th, that individual will have to answer to that charge,” said Craig, referring to Cuomo and the date he has been ordered to appear in court.
The one-page complaint, filed in Albany City Court, accuses Cuomo of committing the crime of forcible touching by putting his hand under a woman’s shirt on Dec. 7, 2020.
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 his resignation 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.
The Albany County District Attorney's office said after the charge was filed 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 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?”
Craig 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.
As for the district attorney's office, Craig said they did “separate investigations.”
“I’m not sure what the district attorney’s investigation has as of this point,” he said.
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 Associated Press does not identify alleged sexual assault victims unless they decide to tell their stories publicly, as Commisso has done.
A spokesman for the former governor said Thursday's surprise developments were evidence that the case is politically motivated.
“In an unprecedented move, Craig Apple ‘erroneously’ filed misdemeanor charges against former Governor Cuomo without notification or authorization of the district attorney or the complainant," said the spokesman, Rich Azzopardi.
"It seemed the only person who was notified, and had a statement ready to go, was Tish James,” he said, referring to the state's attorney general, who oversaw a civil investigation into Cuomo's conduct with women, but was not involved in the sheriff's criminal probe.
James announced Friday that she was running for governor.
Calvan reported from New York City.