Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Facing Death, Brooklyn District Attorney Spoke of Doing What ‘Is Right’


I asked Mr. Thompson about the case of Peter Liang, a police officer who fatally shot a black man, Akai Gurley, in the stairway of a public housing building. Mr. Liang was convicted of second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to probation and community service. Some officers were angry at Mr. Thompson for pursuing the case; Mr. Gurley’s family was angry at him for recommending no jail time for Mr. Liang.

Mr. Thompson’s spokeswoman, listening to the call, interjected, trying to steer him away from the subject, but he rebuffed her.

“No, no, I know it’s on the table,” he said. “I approached that case with a determination to get justice. The problem is, these cops often are not prosecuted. And people forget also, in all the criticism of me, that I did the Abner Louima trial with Loretta Lynch. I did the opening statement for the United States government, and helped convict Justin Volpe, who got 30 years and is still in prison now. And so when it comes to police brutality, I’m adamant.”

He had made his name as a federal prosecutor in the case of Mr. Louima, a Haitian immigrant tortured with a broomstick while in custody at a Brooklyn police station in 1997.

Nearly two decades later, as district attorney, he sought the convictions of two officers who knocked out a teenager’s teeth and were captured on video doing it. And he recommended a three-month sentence for an officer who stomped on the head of a man being arrested, he said, “because that was a blatant act of police brutality.”

As we talked, Mr. Thompson listed his proudest accomplishments: his decision not to prosecute most low-level marijuana arrests in Brooklyn, even as the police continued to make them; the establishment of a juvenile court, in partnership with the city courts and the police, to help young people charged with minor offenses avoid criminal records; and a program that invited city residents to clear open arrest warrants for petty crimes without going to court.

Yet nothing evidently gave him more pleasure than the unit he had set up to reverse miscarriages of justice.

“In two years and eight months, we have vacated 21 wrongful convictions,” Mr. Thompson said. “Twenty-one.” All of the defendants were black or Hispanic, he added. “Now, I don’t know any D.A. who is doing it like that.”

He stressed that the exoneration cases had been carefully chosen. “We are not flipping a coin,” he said. “It is still a rigorous, fair, thorough investigation that we take. But I am not going to be a coward, in any way, from doing what I think is right. And I think that one of the biggest things that represents my determination to make a difference is my work with wrongful convictions.”

  • The full NYT article can be found HERE

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