Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo facing misdemeanor complaint for forcible touching
ALBANY – Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo was accused of forcibly touching a woman at the Executive Mansion late last year in a criminal complaint filed Thursday in Albany City Court.
The Albany County Sheriff's Office filed a complaint in Albany City Court accusing the governor of reaching under the blouse of the woman and grabbing her left breast in the late afternoon of Dec. 7, 2020, an alleged incident that helped lead to Cuomo's downfall as governor in August.
The complaint, filed Thursday by Investigator Amy Kowalski, accused Cuomo of "knowingly and intentionally" committing the crime of forcible touching, a class A misdemeanor. He is scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 17.
The victim's name was redacted in a copy of the complaint provided by the state Office of Court Administration, but she has previously publicly identified herself as Brittany Commisso, 33, an executive assistant to the governor.
Filing made against Cuomo
"Andrew M. Cuomo did intentionally, and for no legitimate purpose, forcibly place his hand under the blouse shirt of the victim ... and onto her intimate body part," the complaint reads.
"Specifically, the victim's left breast for the purposes of degrading and gratifying his sexual desires, all contrary to the provisions of the statute in such case made and provided."
Lucian Chalfen, spokesman for the state Office of Court Administration, confirmed receipt of the complaint.
The filing of the complaint appeared to cause confusion between prosecutors and the police, a point seized on by Cuomo's attorney.
Albany County District Attorney David Soares said in a statement his office was "surprised" to learn that a criminal complaint had been filed by the sheriff's office, saying, "The Office of Court Administration has since made that filing public. Our office will not be commenting further on this case.”
Sheriff Craig Apple said in a statement that the evidence from the investigation that started in August was presented in city court, which then issued the criminal summons.
Cuomo attorney Rita Glavin refuted the case.
“Governor Cuomo has never assaulted anyone, and Sheriff Apple’s motives here are patently improper," she said in a statement. "Sheriff Apple didn’t even tell the District Attorney what he was doing."
She contented that Apple's actions were "no surprise," saying he spoke publicly in August "where he essentially pronounced the Governor guilty before doing an investigation" and said his office had leaked grand jury information.
"This is not professional law enforcement; this is politics," she said.
Republicans seized on the criminal charges against the three-term Democratic governor, who served 11 years at the helm of the state.
"The news of Andrew Cuomo’s imminent arrest is one small but crucial step closer towards accountability," said Senate Republican Leader Robert Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, Niagara County.
"I want to recognize the brave women who came forward to share their stories. None of this would be possible without their willingness to stand up to a powerful and vindictive political figure."
Ongoing legal trouble for Cuomo
Cuomo officially resigned Aug. 23, three weeks after state Attorney General Letitia James' office issued a bombshell report that concluded he sexually harassed 11 women, nine of whom were state employees.
One of those women was Commisso, who told James' investigators that Cuomo had pulled her in for a close hug during an encounter late last year at the Executive Mansion, where Cuomo lived and often worked.
At that point, Cuomo reached under her blouse and grabbed her breast over her bra, according to the report.
Commisso unveiled her identity in an August interview with CBS This Morning and the Times Union of Albany, recounting her story and explaining why she decided to come forward.
She came forward to members of Cuomo's office on March 3, when the then-governor was accused by at least two other women of sexual harassment. At a news conference where Cuomo denied harassing anyone, Commisso broke down in front of her coworkers.
"I believe that he groped me, he touched me, not only once, but twice. And I don't think that that had happened to any of the other women," Commisso said in the media interview.
Commisso, in her testimony with James' investigators, had been unsure of the exact date of the alleged encounter with Cuomo, but said it happened late in the year.
James' report suggested the encounter was on a specific November date, but the sheriff's complaint says it occurred Dec. 7 between 3:51 p.m. and 4:07 p.m.
The complaint lists off the evidence the sheriff's office collected in support of its claims, including BlackBerry PIN messages — Cuomo's preferred method of communication — and other cellphone records, as well as Commisso's Capitol swipe card and State Police aviation records from that day.
Cuomo has repeatedly denied that he inappropriately touched anyone. In August, Glavin specifically denied Commisso's claim.
"The governor has repeatedly denied that ever took place, and quite frankly, when she first raised this in early March, he was stunned," Glavin said.
Cuomo and Glavin have questioned the motives of James, who — at Cuomo's request — appointed two outside attorneys to oversee the initial sexual harassment investigation.
James, who is expected to announce a run for governor in the coming days, said the criminal complaint filed against Cuomo validates her office's work.
"From the moment my office received the referral to investigate allegations that former Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, we proceeded without fear or favor," she said in a statement.
Jon Campbell is the New York State Team editor for the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at JCAMPBELL1@Gannett.com or on Twitter at @JonCampbellGAN.
Support local journalism
We cover the stories from the New York State Capitol and across New York that matter most to you and your family. Please consider supporting our efforts with a subscription to the New York publication nearest you.