Brooklyn Congressman Hakeem Jeffries and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams have expressed sadness with the passing of Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson.
Thompson, who last week announced that he was recently diagnosed with cancer, died Sunday, his family said. He was 50.
Both Jeffries and Adams were optimistic that Thompson would prevail in his fight against the disease.
“Ken Thompson was a devoted father and loving husband,” said Jeffries, who represents the 8th Congressional District that covers parts of Brooklyn and Queens.
“He built an incredible civil rights law practice founded on the principle of liberty and justice for all,” added Jeffries, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus leadership and the House Judiciary Committee. “He served our city and the nation with great distinction, first as a federal prosecutor and then as the dynamic Brooklyn District Attorney. And he was my friend.
“As District Attorney, Ken Thompson kept us safe, freed the wrongfully convicted, successfully prosecuted gunrunners, reformed the practice of low level marijuana arrests and established groundbreaking, compassionate smart on crime policies,” Jeffries continued. “In a short time in office, he made a tremendous difference and he will never be forgotten.”
Adams said Brooklyn has lost a “true champion of justice,” adding that the borough “stands united in mourning the terribly untimely passing of Ken Thompson, a man who set a gold standard for public service that has had a lasting impact across our country.
“From enacting marijuana prosecution reform to addressing the open warrant crisis for low-level offenses, he has introduced much-needed fairness and compassion into our criminal justice system,” Adams said. “Furthermore, Ken’s commitment to the law and to the well-being of our children and families made our streets fundamentally safer.”
“With a heavy heart,” Thompson’s family said he passed after a “hard fought battle with cancer.”
Sworn in as Brooklyn District Attorney in 2014, Thompson was elected the borough’s first African-American District Attorney in 2013, the family said.
Having campaigned on the promise to restore confidence in the criminal justice system, the family said Thompson established a model Conviction Review Unit which, in three years, moved to vacate or support the dismissal of the convictions of 21 people who were wrongfully convicted of murder and other offenses.
In 2014, Thompson implemented a groundbreaking policy not to prosecute low-level marijuana possession arrests, in order to spare young people from the burden of a criminal record.
Prior to being elected District Attorney, Thompson served as a former federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York, where he was a member of the team that successfully prosecuted former New York City Police Officer Justin Volpe in the brutal 1997 beating and torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima, the family said.
Thompson also served as a special assistant to the United States Treasury Department Undersecretary for Enforcement in Washington, D.C., and in the General Counsel’s Office at the Treasury.
He was on the team of lawyers and federal agents who conducted the investigation ordered by President Clinton of the 1993 raid on David Koresh and the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco, Texas.
After serving as a federal prosecutor, the family said Thompson worked at a prominent international law firm.
He then co-founded his own firm, where he represented victims of pregnancy discrimination, as well as those who had been subjected to unlawful prejudice due to their race, gender, age, religion, or sexual orientation, the family said.
Thompson also worked with members of Congress and the clergy to convince the United States Department of Justice to reinvestigate the 1955 murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi, the family said.
Thompson was born and raised in New York City, where his mother, Clara Thompson, was one of the first female police officers in the New York City Police Department to patrol the streets in 1973, and went on to serve as a member of the New York Police Department (NYPD) for 21 years.
A graduate of New York City public schools, Thompson went on to graduate magna cum laude from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the family said.
He then earned his law degree at New York University Law School, where he was awarded the prestigious Arthur T. Vanderbilt Medal for his outstanding contributions to the law school community.
In publicly announcing his cancer diagnosis, Thompson had said that he had dedicated himself and his office’s resources over the past three years to keeping the people of Brooklyn safe while strengthening his office’s commitment to reform and improving the criminal justice system.
“And now, I am prepared for another fight,” he said. “Recently, I was diagnosed with cancer. As a man of intense faith, I intend to fight and win the battle against this disease.
“I humbly seek your sincere prayers, as I confront this challenge, and respectfully ask that you honor my family’s need and wish for privacy during this time,” he added.
During the absences, occasioned by his treatment and recovery, Thompson had said the Kings County District Attorney’s Office would be led by Chief Assistant Eric Gonzalez, alongside others on the executive team.
“I thank you in advance for your prayers and look forward to rejoining you on the battlefield for justice,” Thompson had said.
Gonzalez said on Sunday that it was “with deep regret and tremendous sadness that I announce the passing of DA Ken Thompson.
“He was a giant among those seeking to reform the criminal justice system, and we are all privileged to have worked under his transformative leadership these past three years,” Gonzalez said.
“Our sincere prayers are with his wife, children and loved ones,” he added. “May he rest in peace, knowing that he has made Brooklyn and New York City a better place.”
Gonzalez said he and the executive team are “committed to leading the office and carrying out DA Thompson’s vision and initiatives.”
Thompson is survived by his wife of 17 years, Lu-Shawn Thompson; his two children, Kennedy and Kenny; his mother; father; brother and sister.
The family was by his side at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital at the time of his passing.