NEW YORK — A three-week-old logjam blocking effective investigation of the beating and death of a black man fleeing a group of white teen-agers was broken Tuesday, when Gov. Mario M. Cuomo appointed a special state prosecutor, and a spokesman for reluctant witnesses said that they will testify.
Cuomo named Joe Hynes to the sensitive post. Hynes, who is New York City's special anti-corruption prosecutor, will take over the investigation from John J. Santucci, the district attorney in Queens, where the attack took place. Santucci had asked Cuomo to appoint a special prosecutor in the case, which has attracted nationwide attention and aggravated racial tensions here.
Three blacks were beaten by the teen-agers Dec. 20 in the predominantly white neighborhood of Howard Beach. One of the blacks, Michael Griffith, 23, ran onto a nearby parkway and was run over and killed by a car driven by the son of a police officer.
Driver Not Cited
Murder and manslaughter charges were filed against three white teen-agers, but no charge was filed against the driver, who investigators said merely was passing by and wasn't involved in the attack.
The other two beating victims, Cedric Sandiford and Timothy Grimes, refused to cooperate in the probe. They said that police were protecting the driver. Because of a lack of evidence, the murder and manslaughter charges against the three white teen-agers were thrown out. Those charges could be reinstated by a grand jury, now that Sandiford and Grimes have agreed to testify.
"We sought a way to break this impasse. We believe we have found a way," Cuomo said after an all-day meeting with community leaders, who stood at his side during a news conference in the governor's offices in Manhattan's World Trade Center.
Cuomo pledged that he was committed "to enforcing the law as vigorously as it can be enforced against the perpetrators in the Howard Beach situation."
Witnesses Change Stand
The Rev. Calvin Butts, speaking for the witnesses and their lawyers, applauded the appointment of a special prosecutor:
"They (the witnesses) will cooperate fully with the special prosecutor," he said. " . . . The governor has seen fit to move on this decisively."
Civil rights activists and community leaders also hailed the action. "I think it's a good decision," said Hazel Dukes, president of the New York State NAACP. "There should have been a special prosecutor all along."
Cuomo also vowed to strengthen state statutes against racial discrimination, and said he would introduce legislation fashioned after the federal civil rights law, making it a penal offense to violate certain civil rights. He also said he would establish better mechanisms for investigating civil rights complaints, and facilitate the appointment of special prosecutors where local law enforcement is considered insufficient.