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Former New York Attorney General Won't Face Criminal Charges For Alleged Abuse

Eric Schneiderman, the former attorney general of New York who resigned after multiple women accused him of physically attacking them, will not face criminal charges over the allegations of abuse.

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas says an experienced team of prosecutors and investigators conducted an "exhaustive review" of the facts and the legal landscape.

Singas, who personally interviewed accusers, says she believes the women. But because of "legal impediments, including statutes of limitations," prosecution isn't possible, she announced in a statement Thursday.

Identifying "a gap in the law," Singas simultaneously proposed legislation that would protect victims of "sexually-motivated violence" in the future.

In a story published by The New Yorker in May, four women accused Schneiderman of nonconsensual slapping, hitting and choking, as part of a larger pattern of demeaning and violently abusive behavior. He also spat on some of the women, belittled them and threatened to kill them, former girlfriends said.

Schneiderman initially denied the allegations and said he merely engaged in "role-playing and other consensual sexual activity."

But the former attorney general struck a different tone on Thursday.

"I recognize that District Attorney Singas' decision not to prosecute does not mean I have done nothing wrong. I accept full responsibility for my conduct in my relationships with my accusers, and for the impact it had on them," he said in a statement.

Schneiderman — who had publicly been an outspoken advocate for women, before his fall from grace — said Thursday that he had spent time in rehab and is committed to making amends.

"I apologize for any and all pain that I have caused, and I apologize to the people of the State of New York for disappointing them after they put their trust in me," he wrote.

Michelle Manning Barish, one of the women who spoke on the record to the New Yorker, wrote on Twitter that she feels "completely vindicated by Eric Schneiderman's admission that he engaged in the abuse to which he subjected me and the other women."

But she called for Schneiderman to go beyond words.

"A crucial next step will be for Schneiderman to turn over all campaign contributions — which we understand to be over $8.5 M — to groups that combat sexual violence against women and protect those who are harmed,"she wrote.

"I wish him well in his recovery process," she said.

The investigation into Schneiderman's alleged abuse was originally opened by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.

But, as NPR wrote in May, that was a complicated situation: "Schneiderman has been investigating Vance for his involvement in the decision not to prosecute Harvey Weinstein in 2015 after it gathered evidence for a case against him."

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, seeking to avoid a conflict of interest, reassigned the investigation to Singas, who served as a special prosecutor.

Singas ultimately concluded that state laws, as written, "preclude criminal prosecution" in Schneiderman's case. Identifying "deficiencies" in the law in cases such as this one, she also proposed the legislative fix.

Currently, a slap that does not cause physical injury is not a crime in New York unless the intent is to "alarm, harass or annoy" someone, she wrote. And bruises or abrasions do not qualify as "physical injury."

The prosecutor did not provide specific examples. But her summary suggests that in a sexual context, repeatedly slapping a person without his or her consent to the point of causing tears, screams of pain and a lingering mark — one of the many types of assaults Schneiderman is accused of committing — is not a crime in New York state.

Singas notes that "sexually-motivated violence ... may leave the victims with deep emotional wounds, even if they do not sustain physical injuries as defined under New York penal law."

Singas' proposed legislation would criminalize nonconsensual slapping, kicking and striking "with the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification, and without consent." The offense would be classified as sexual harassment.
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org/.