Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson was remembered Saturday as a prosecutor who championed justice and prioritized fairness over criminal convictions, freeing those who were wrongly imprisoned.
Thompson’s funeral at the Christian Cultural Center in the East New York neighborhood where he’d long worshipped drew more than 1,000 people.
Thompson, 50, died a week ago, just days after announcing he would be undergoing treatment for cancer.
Among the local, state and federal officials in attendance were Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch.
“Ken literally changed the face of justice in Brooklyn. He changed what justice looked like. He changed what justice meant for so many people,” Lynch said in her eulogy.
Two decades ago, she and Thompson, then a federal prosecutor, successfully prosecuted an NYPD officer who had sodomized a Haitian immigrant with a stick in 1997 and covered up the crime behind a blue wall of silence.
Thompson’s 34 months in office as the borough’s first elected black district attorney dovetailed with a national reckoning over racial profiling and the war on drugs.
Charles Hynes, the longtime district attorney whom Thompson ousted in 2013 after a bitter campaign, was described during the service as a “Goliath” beset by scandal and beaten by a “David.” Hynes could not be reached for comment.
As district attorney, Thompson secured a rare conviction of a cop in local court. NYPD Officer Peter Liang was found guilty of manslaughter earlier this year of mistakenly shooting an innocent man in a darkened stairwell. But Thompson’s request for no jail time, ultimately heeded by the trial judge, drew the ire of the man’s family and activists.
Thompson sought to lessen the sting of the criminal justice system by refusing to prosecute low-level marijuana arrests and helping Brooklynites clear petty warrants easily.
He also impaneled a conviction-integrity unit to review claims that his predecessors had locked them up wrongly and kept them there. The unit led to the exonerations of 21 people.
“Can you just imagine what Ken Thompson would be doing today if the Lord had allowed him to be with us?” Cuomo told the mourners.
David McCallum, wrongfully convicted of a 1985 killing, wept at the podium as he recalled Thompson’s encouragement when the murder conviction was about to be vacated — with the district attorney’s help — two years ago.
“As I promised . . . I will continue to live a pristine life,” McCallum said.
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a prior version of this story incorrectly identified the predecessor of the late Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson.