Former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sponsored legislation that criminalized strangulation — a law that legal experts say could now be used to prosecute him, as he faces allegations from women who say he hit, choked and threatened them.
“He seems to have seen himself as being above the law that he helped write. That seems, to me, to be a breathtakingly brazen level of arrogance,” said Jane Manning, a former New York City prosecutor who is now the director of advocacy for the New York City chapter of the National Organization for Women. Manning worked with Schneiderman’s office to pass the Strangulation Prevention Act of 2010 when he was a state senator.
“He took the political capital that came from working on an anti-strangulation bill and used it to try to get away with strangulation and assault against women in his own life,” Manning said. “It’s a stunning act of betrayal.”
Schneiderman denies that he assaulted anyone. “In the privacy of intimate relationships, I have engaged in role-playing and other consensual sexual activity,” he said in a statement. “I have not assaulted anyone. I have never engaged in non-consensual sex, which is a line I would not cross.”
The New York Democrat sponsored the Strangulation Prevention Act, which made the intentional obstruction of breathing or blood circulation a misdemeanor. Strangulation that causes stupor, loss of consciousness or physical injury is a violent felony under the law.
“The time to criminalize this horrific form of abuse is now,” Schneiderman said when he introduced the legislation in 2010. “It sends a strong message that we must do everything in our power to ensure that no one is immune from accountability for committing such a heinous crime.”
The passage of the law was considered a victory for women whose abusers had used choking to control them without leaving marks. “Prior to this law, a lot of strangulation attacks could not be prosecuted because if the attack didn’t leave visible marks, the police would not consider it to be an assault,” Manning said.
In a report published by the New Yorker on Monday, two women who were romantically involved with Schneiderman at separate times between 2013 and 2017, Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam, accused him of slapping them across the ear and face and choking them without their consent.
“He was cutting off my ability to breathe,” Selvaratnam told the magazine, describing one incident of abuse that took place when she was involved with Schneiderman from summer 2016 to fall 2017.
Barish recounted an incident in 2013 when Schneiderman allegedly slapped her and pushed her onto the bed. “He then used his body weight to hold me down, and he began to choke me,” she told the New Yorker. “The choking was very hard. It was really bad. I kicked. In every fibre, I felt I was being beaten by a man.”
Manning said the conduct detailed in these accusations could constitute misdemeanor charges of assault and criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation — the latter of which only became a misdemeanor with the passage of Schneiderman’s Strangulation Prevention Act.
The statute of limitations for a misdemeanor is two years in New York, which means Schneiderman might not face charges for allegations of abuse that took place before 2016. But Manning said Selvaratnam’s accusations appear to fall within the statue of limitations and could lead to criminal charges.
“It’s the height of irony,” said Bennett Gershman, a Pace Law professor and a former prosecutor with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. “It’s an incredible irony that the law that he passed could be used to prosecute him. You probably couldn’t find anything similar like that anywhere in the country.”
If Schneiderman is charged with strangulation, prosecutors would need to prove “intent to impede the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of another person.”
“If you’ve got somebody who’s pressing their hands around somebody’s neck and she’s screaming and he’s pressing harder, you don’t need much more evidence if you’ve got those facts in front of you,” Gershman said. “It speaks for itself.”