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Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson, ill with cancer, dies at 50

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson died Sunday at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson died Sunday at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

(Bryan Pace/for New York Daily News)


Updated: Sunday, October 9, 2016, 9:04 PM

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson died Sunday at the age of 50 after 32 months in office, officials said.

Thompson’s sudden death at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center came as a shock to the city, which was already reeling from his announcement Tuesday that he was seriously ill with cancer and was going on leave to be treated.

His family was with him when he died.

“The world lost a great man today,” his wife Lu-Shawn Benbow-Thompson wrote on Facebook. “Rest in Peace to my husband, Kenneth Paul Thompson.”

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Thompson was diagnosed with stage four cancer, either in his brain or pancreas, earlier this year, sources said.

Reaction from the state’s politicians and civic leaders was swift.

“I am profoundly saddened to learn of the sudden passing of Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson after a battle with cancer,” Gov. Cuomo said.

“Ken was a dedicated public servant who embodied the highest principles of the law, and his grand presence will be sorely missed.”

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Cuomo described Thompson as an “effective, aggressive civil rights leader – and a national voice for criminal justice reform.” He ordered all flags to fly at half staff Monday.

Just five days before his death, Thompson publicly disclosed his illness.

“As a man of intense faith, I intend to fight and win the battle against this disease,” he said in a statement Tuesday. “I humbly seek your sincere prayers as I confront this challenge.”

He said he had appointed his Chief Assistant Eric Gonzalez to lead the office in his place.

Gonzalez on Sunday called his boss a “giant among those seeking to reform the criminal justice system.”

“We are all privileged to have worked under his transformative leadership these past three years,” he added.

Thompson took office in January, 2014, after he defeated longtime Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes, who had been in office since 1990.

He made history by becoming the borough’s first African-American chief prosecutor.

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson took office in January 2014. He was the borough's first black chief prosecutor. 

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson took office in January 2014. He was the borough’s first black chief prosecutor. 

(Jesse Ward/Jesse Ward for New York Daily Ne)

He was also the first candidate to defeat a sitting district attorney since 1911.

During his tenure as Brooklyn DA, Thompson ordered his office not to prosecute low level marijuana arrests, in part to devote more resources to gun crimes, rape and domestic violence. He said he also wanted to spare younger New Yorkers from “the burden of a criminal record.”

Thompson also moved to vacate or support the dismissal of convictions of 21 people wrongly convicted of murder and other offenses.

He created special units to focus on fraud against immigrants, labor fraud and cybercrimes.

Before taking office, Thompson had been a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

There, he was a member of a team which prosecuted Police Officer Justin Volpe for the 1997 beating and torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in Brooklyn’s 70th Precinct stationhouse.

He gave the opening statement in the trial. Volpe pleaded guilty in the middle of the trial and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

After that, Thompson moved into private practice, saying his firm would focus on cases involving various kinds of discrimination. Among his clients were Nafissatou Diallo, a hotel maid who alleged she was raped by the former head of the International Monetary Fund Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Eventually, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office dropped all charges against Strauss-Kahn, in part saying Diallo had changed her story more than once.

Earlier in his career, Thompson served as a senior official in the U.S. Treasury Department, and was part of the legal team involved in the investigation into the 1993 raid on cult leader David Koresh and the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco, Texas.

He was also tapped to help Congress reinvestigate the 1955 murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi.

Thompson was born and raised in New York City. His mother was one of the city’s first female NYPD officers to patrol the streets.

He attended public school and graduated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He then earned his law degree at New York University Law School.

Thompson is survived by his wife of 17 years, Lu-Shawn Thompson, his two children, Kennedy and Kenny, his mother, father, brother and sister.

Funeral arrangements had yet to be made public Sunday night.

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