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Brooklyn DA Kenneth Thompson Dies After Battle With Cancer

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson has died at the age of 50.

The DA's office announced that Thompson died Sunday after a hard-fought battle with cancer.

Just last week, Thompson revealed publicly that he was battling cancer.

"Recently, I was diagnosed with cancer. As a man of intense faith, I intend to fight and win the battle against this disease," Thompson said in a statement released Tuesday. "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."

As CBS2's Steve Langford reported, Thompson scored an upset victory in 2013 by defeating longtime Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes.

Thompson was the borough's first African-American district attorney.

CBS2 spoke to Thompson in his office in 2014.

"I take many of these cases home with me, because at the end of the day, when anyone is shot and killed or violently attacked, it's something that I ran to prevent," Thompson said at the time.

Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President Carlo Scissura said he and his borough have lost a friend.

"I mean, a young man who was really dedicated to the people of this borough, who understood adversity and struggle from a personal basis," Scissura said.

The DA's office noted Thompson's many achievements.

In 2014, Thompson began what the DA's office called a groundbreaking policy not to prosecute low-level marijuana possession arrests.

Before being elected DA, Thompson served as a federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of New York, where he was a member of the team that successfully prosecuted former NYPD Officer Justin Volpe in the 1997 beating and torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima.

Thompson also served as special assistant to the U.S. 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 attorneys and federal agents that conducted an investigation ordered by President Bill Clinton following the 1993 raid on David Koresh and the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco, Texas, the DA's office said.

Thompson also worked with members of Congress and the clergy to convince the U.S. Department of Justice to reinvestigate the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, 14, in Money, Mississippi.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced late Sunday that flags in New York state will fly at half-staff for Thompson on Monday.

"I am profoundly saddened to learn of the sudden passing of Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson after a battle with cancer," Cuomo said in a statement. "Ken was a dedicated public servant who embodied the highest principles of the law, and his grand presence will be sorely missed."

Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray released a joint statement.

"The thoughts and prayers of our entire city are with District Attorney Ken Thompson, his family and his loved ones tonight. With a life and promise cut far too short, our city was blessed with but a glimpse of Ken's unwavering commitment to justice and his unrivaled pursuit of a more fair system for all those he served. Our courtrooms and our communities have no doubt been dealt a blow with Ken's passing, but I am confident the indelible mark left by his public service will forever be a part of the fabric of our justice system," the statement said. "Tonight we mourn the loss of a champion of reform. Our task now will be to rise each day forward in the spirit Ken lived his life."

Police Commissioner James O'Neill added: "We are deeply saddened by the death of District Attorney Ken Thompson. He dedicated his life to the pursuit of justice and his legacy will live on through his contributions to the criminal justice system. ‎Our deepest condolences and prayers are with his family and loved ones at this time."

Chief Assistant Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said he and the executive team were committed to carrying out Thompson's mission.

"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 of Thompson in a statement.

Gonzalez continued: "In that short period, he transformed the Office into a model urban prosecutor's office, with a mandate to do justice and treat everyone and every case fairly and with utmost integrity. Among his many initiatives, he created a model for correcting wrongful convictions, instituted a marijuana policy that would later be replicated citywide and started a summons forgiveness program that would also be instituted in several other jurisdictions. Our sincere prayers are with his wife, children and loved ones. May he rest in peace, knowing that he has made Brooklyn and New York City a better place."

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams called Thompson "a true champion of justice."

"Ken was more than my colleague; he was my friend. I am honored to be beside him in the storied history of Brooklyn as the first African-Americans to hold boroughwide office, and I know that many young men and women will reach a bit higher because of the heights that Ken reached in his career and his life," Adams said in a statement. "Let us all lift up his family and friends at this most difficult hour, and let us continue to support the men and women of the Kings County District Attorney's Office who will further the mission that Ken Thompson laid out for our borough, city, state, and nation."

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Thompson was "a bright light who worked tirelessly to make the people of Brooklyn and the City safer. We all mourn this terrible and untimely loss."

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer called Thompson "a courageous fighter for civil rights and a leader in the battle to bring justice -- however long deferred -- to people who were unjustly imprisoned for crimes they didn't commit. As a former federal prosecutor and a pioneering Brooklyn District Attorney, he championed the cause of equal justice for all."

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James called Thompson "a great fighter for justice."

"District Attorney Ken Thompson was committed to bringing equity to Brooklyn, and to making our borough safer and fairer for all," James said in the statement. "He stayed true to this commitment until his last moments, and we must all continue his legacy by working for a more just New York."

Thompson was born and raised in New York City. His mother, Clara Thompson, was one of the first female NYPD officers to patrol the streets beginning in 1973, and served as a member of the NYPD for 21 years.

Thompson graduated magna cum laude from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and earned his law degree from the NYU Law School, where he received the prestigious Arthur T. Vanderbilt Medal for his contributions to the law school community.

Thompson is survived by his wife of 17 years, Lu-Shawn Thompson; his two children, Kennedy and Kenny; and his mother, father, brother and sister. All were at his bedside at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center when he passed away, the DA's office said.

The Kings County District Attorney's office is one of the nation's busiest prosecutor offices and handles more than 80,000 cases a year.


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