Last week, we lost Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson, the “People’s Prosecutor.” When I heard of his passing, I did what most do after the shock of such an unexpected death. I reflected on Thompson. During my reflections I recalled the first time I met him.
I met him on Court Street, Brooklyn, N.Y., in the pursuit of justice for Abner Louima, who had been beaten and tortured by New York City police officers.
As most may recall, the brutalization of Abner Louima occurred Aug. 9, 1997. The late Carl Thomas, Brian Figueroux and I were the first attorneys on Louima’s case. After the family contacted Figueroux, we immediately went to Coney Island Hospital and saw and spoke with Louima. The brutality he experienced was heart wrenching.
When we arrived, investigators from the Internal Affairs Bureau of the New York Police Department were questioning Louima as to what had happened. Louima’s wife, Micheline, and his father were not allowed to enter the hospital room where he was being treated because at the time, he was “under arrest” for assault on a police officer. We were in complete disbelief that anyone could be subjected to this type of brutality by police officers and that the family was not allowed to be at his bedside. We knew we needed more. We had no confidence that then-District Attorney Charles Hynes could deliver the justice that was required for Louima, the Black community and the people of Brooklyn, the place where I was raised and was raising my three children. Both Thomas and Figueroa were former assistant district attorneys under the administration of Hynes, and I was a criminal defense attorney, representing individuals in Kings County. We needed the United States Attorney, Eastern District, to “take over” this case.
I recall, early one Sunday morning, while working on Louima’s case, Thomas told me to come with him downstairs, outside to Court Street. We were standing there and a tall young man approached us and Thomas engaged in a conversation with him. I said, “Hey Carl, who’s this guy?”
Thomas replied, “This is my friend, Ken. We went to law school together.”
The introduction was made and as they continued their conversation, I listened. I learned then that Thomas had called Thompson, then an assistant United States attorney with the New York Eastern District U.S. Attorney’s office. Thomas shared with Thompson that we needed the U.S. Attorney’s office to handle this case. We needed to find out the process and who to call. The conversation ended and Thompson walked up Court Street, toward Cadman Plaza.
Within a day, we received a call that the U.S. Attorney would meet with us. Thomas, Figueroux and I met with four representatives of the U.S. Attorney’s office. We were led into a room, with a very large oak table, which separated us from four assistant U.S. attorneys. Carl eloquently gave all the reasons why Hynes should not and could not handle Louima’s brutality case. More particularly, he articulated the fact that we needed justice for Louima and the community of Brooklyn, and changes in the New York City Police Department were necessary. This case was the case to start to make that happen. Within a few days, Aug. 18, 1997, Eastern District U.S. Attorney Zachary Carter announced that an investigation would be launched in Louima’s case, and he indicted the police officers. Thompson was one of the assistant U.S. attorneys on the case.