TROY, N.Y. — Rensselaer County District Attorney Joel Abelove was met by investigators Thursday morning as he walked into work at the county courthouse.
Under normal circumstances, that might not be unusual for a prosecutor — but these investigators were from the state attorney general's office, and their target was Abelove. A search warrant enabled them to confiscate the first-term DA's county-issued cell phone as part of an ongoing investigation into Abelove's conduct.
Sources familiar with the case confirmed Thursday that the phone was seized in connection to a probe on the Edson Thevenin case, specifically looking at Abelove's conduct and whether he intentionally kept state investigators from doing their job.
“I will continue to fully cooperate with the Attorney General’s Office and look forward to a quick resolution to this review," Abelove said in a statement, offering no further comment Thursday.
His own lawyer was a bit more sharp-tongued.
"The attorney general is looking to make this about something bigger," said attorney John Bailey. "It's our opinion that it is for political reasons; that it would polish his credentials for higher office."
The move comes as Attorney General Eric Schneiderman continues to question why Abelove took the Edson Thevenin case to a grand jury in 2016. Thevenin, a Troy man, was killed in April 2016 when he was shot by police sergeant Randy French after a police chase in Troy. At the time, police said Thevenin had used his car to ram Sgt. French and pin him back, forcing the officer to fire his service pistol in self-defense.
Because Thevenin was not carrying a weapon, the case could have fallen under a relatively new governor's order, empowering the attorney general to review any death of an unarmed civilian at the hands of police. Bailey says that review was completed at the scene of the shooting.
"Everyone who was there knew that a motor vehicle was used as a weapon, to threaten the life of a police officer," Bailey said Thursday, noting that agents for the attorney general told Abelove that day that he should pursue the case at the county level.
However, no written record of that exchange exists. When Abelove later presented the case to a grand jury, Sgt. French was cleared of wrongdoing.
Schneiderman later sued Abelove's office in 2016, but that claim was settled when Abelove agreed to hand over his case file. The latest investigation, exploring whether Abelove hindered the original probe, began on order from Governor Andrew Cuomo last month.
"As Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said at the start of this investigation, [we] will follow the facts of this case wherever they lead," said department spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick on Thursday. "The Thevenin family — and the Rensselaer County community — deserve answers."