Home / Newsmakers / Brooklyn DA on a Special Prosecutor, Peter Liang, and More

 
Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson pointing to a map showing gun violence in various neighborhoods across the borough. Thompson spoke July 9 at a briefing sponsored by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY J School. The panel was moderated by NY1's Errol Louis, at right in photo, who also teaches at the CUNY J School. (Photo by Aaron Montes for Voices of NY)

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson pointing to a map showing gun violence in various neighborhoods across the borough. Thompson spoke July 9 at a briefing sponsored by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY J School. The panel was moderated by NY1’s Errol Louis, at right in photo, who also teaches at the CUNY J-School. (Photo by Aaron Montes for Voices of NY)

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson addressed a wide range of topics in a lively session with reporters from the community and ethnic press on July 9 at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

He critiqued Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his recent decision naming State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as a special prosecutor in cases involving people who have been killed by the police, said that the decision to indict NYPD officer Peter Liang in the death of Akai Gurley was not politically motivated, and referred to charges that his office has any problems hiring and retaining women as “baseless attacks.”

Thompson noted that 88 of the 167 new prosecutors he had hired since becoming Brooklyn DA are women, who are “diverse as well,” and that 62 percent of non-legal staff hired are women. He also named several women who he had appointed as heads of special units of his office.

The DA displayed a map of Brooklyn indicating the shootings in the borough in 2014, with a striking difference between neighborhoods in north Brooklyn, with numerous pins each indicating a shooting, and south Brooklyn, with relatively few pins. Bay Ridge, he noted, didn’t have a single shooting in 2014. “More parts of Brooklyn should look like Bay Ridge,” he said.

Thompson discussed his office’s prosecution of abusive landlords who damaged occupied housing units in order to drive out rent-stabilized tenants and create market-rate apartments, and he also spoke at length about his Immigrant Fraud unit.

“We have to do more to protect immigrant communities from being ripped off,” Thompson said, noting that the Labor Fraud unit also gets involved in cases where immigrants are suffering from labor theft and other abuses. A video of the entire briefing can be viewed below.

At the press conference, sponsored by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY J-School, Thompson said that Cuomo’s announcement, while understandable, nonetheless gave him pause. What the appointment of a special prosecutor in such cases means, wrote Rob Abruzzese in Brooklyn Daily Eagle, is that the Brooklyn DA loses power. The paper quoted Thompson:

“I understand that folks in not just the city, but across the country, are losing faith and losing trust in our criminal justice system, so I get it,” Thompson said during a Q&A at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism on Thursday. “I also believe that the people of Brooklyn shouldn’t be denied their prosecutor in being able to bring those cases.”

The Eagle noted that while Thompson appeared to have softened his earlier stance against the governor’s action, he nonetheless remained critical.

“It is going to be a challenge for the attorney general to hover over 62 counties,” Thompson said. “If somebody is killed in Buffalo, they’ll swoop down to Buffalo and then, God forbid, somebody is killed in the Bronx a week later, they can’t just grab their stuff and say, ‘Bye Buffalo, I gotta be back in the Bronx.’”

Thompson also questioned whether or not a special prosecutor is even necessary and noted that there have been cases in which police have been indicted successfully in the past.

Sing Tao Daily, in its article about the Thompson briefing written by April Xu, focused on his response to questions from the Chinese community regarding NYPD officer Peter Liang’s indictment. Here is an excerpt, translated by Rong Xiaoqing:

It has been more than half a year since police officer Peter Liang’s case happened (editor’s note: Liang accidentally discharged his gun and killed innocent African American Akai Gurley during patrolling last November). But people in the Chinese community are still following the case closely.

Some people like to compare this case with the police brutality on Staten Island in which the police used a chokehold on African American cigarette vendor Eric Garner, which led to his death. Because the police officer who was responsible for Garner’s death was not indicted, some people think Liang became a scapegoat of the tension between the police and the communities caused by the Garner case. Some even question whether Thompson chose to treat Liang more stringently in order to burnish his own reputation and fulfill his political ambition.

When asked about the case, Thompson said he has indicted four police officers since he became district attorney, including Black and Latino officers. He said: “Those indictments were based on the conduct of the officers, not my own political ambition.” Thompson said he was raised by a single mother, who was “one of the first women to go on patrol as a police officer in the history of the city, back in 1973…so I have great respect for police officers.”

Thompson said that he had an obligation to present the evidence to the grand jury, which handed down an indictment. “I am determined to make sure that Officer Liang gets a fair trial but it has nothing to do with political ambition.”

The Chinese language daily World Journal also reported on Thompson’s remarks at the briefing.

This post was originally published on Voices of NY.