Congratulations are in order to Lu-Shawn Thompson on March 27 launched the inaugural Kenneth P. Thompson ’92 Lecture on Race and Criminal Justice Reform, with NYU’s Centers on Administration of Criminal Law and Race Inequality and the Law. The discussion examined the issue of wrongful convictions and the roles that the prosecutors and various participants in the criminal justice legal system can play to ensure greater fairness in the delivery of justice.
Professor Rachel Barkow moderated the conversation. The panelists included Patricia Cummings, supervisor, Conviction Integrity & Special Investigations Unit, Office of the District Attorney, City and County of Philadelphia; Derrick Hamilton, exonoree; Nina Morrison ’98, senior staff attorney, Innocence Project; and Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., the Jesse Climenko Clinical Professor of Law, Harvard Law School and architect of the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office’s Conviction Review Unit.
Thompson was a dedicated and hard worker even as a child, serving his neighbors in Co-op City as a paper boy along with his brother, Dean, for several years. He attended NYC public schools; John Jay College in New York City, from which, in 1989, he graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice. From New York University Law School, he received his J.D. in 1992 and was awarded the prestigious Arthur T. Vanderbilt Medal for his outstanding contributions to the law school community. Ken’s strategic legal mind offered him the unique opportunity to serve 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. During his tenure there, he assisted in the investigation and contributed to the report ordered by President Bill Clinton regarding the 1993 raid on David Koresh and the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco, Texas. Ken later went on to serve as a federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York under the leadership of U.S. Attorney Zachary W. Carter. There, he delivered an impassioned and convincing opening statement that led to the successful prosecution of former New York City Police Officer Justin Volpe in the brutal 1997 beating and torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima.
Ken was elected as Brooklyn’s first African-American District Attorney in 2013, having campaigned on the promise of restoring confidence in the criminal justice system. Among many innovations and initiatives, District Attorney Thompson established a model Conviction Review Unit, which, in only three years, moved to vacate or support the dismissal of the convictions of 21 people who were wrongfully convicted of murder and other offenses. He also implemented a groundbreaking policy not to prosecute low-level marijuana possession arrests in order to spare young people from the burden of a criminal record.
District Attorney Thompson died on October 9, 2016.