Ken Thompson, Brooklyn, NY’s 1st Black District Attorney, Dies at Age 50

His death comes just days after he announced a leave of absence to battle cancer. 

Brooklyn, N.Y., District Attorney Kenneth Thompson in January 2016
Brooklyn, N.Y., District Attorney Kenneth Thompson in January 2016 Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Brooklyn, N.Y., District Attorney Ken Thompson died Sunday after a battle with cancer, his family announced, NBC New York reports. He was 50 years old.

In a statement released Tuesday, Thompson had announced a leave of absence in order to fight his cancer, not specifying what type of cancer he had or any time frame for his treatments, the news station notes.

A statement from his family said that he passed away Sunday at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, surrounded by loved ones.

“A lifelong New Yorker, Ken was known as an effective, aggressive civil rights leader—and a national voice for criminal-justice reform,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement, adding that he was “profoundly saddened” to learn of Thompson’s death.

Cuomo ordered all flags to fly at half-staff in memory of Thompson.

Thompson had been in office since January 2014 after upsetting Charles Hynes, who had been district attorney for more than 20 years, NBC New York notes. He was the first African American to be elected as Brooklyn’s district attorney.

Thompson was also a former federal prosecutor and spent some time in private practice. According to NBC New York, his family said that he worked with the U.S. Congress to urge the Justice Department to reinvestigate the 1955 murder of Emmett Till.

As a prosecutor, Thompson expanded an initiative that reviewed cases of potential wrongful convictions, and in the last three years, 21 people wrongfully convicted of murder and other crimes saw those convictions vacated or dropped, the news station notes.

Thompson also oversaw the prosecution of Peter Liang, the New York City police officer who shot and killed Akai Gurley in a housing project stairwell. Liang was ultimately found guilty of manslaughter, but that charge was downgraded to criminally negligent homicide after Thompson decided not to press for prison time.

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

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.

Read more at NBC New York