One of Brooklyn’s longest serving district attorneys, Charles “Joe” Hynes, has died at 83. The former prosecutor served the city from 1990 to 2013.
The Flatbush-born-and-raised Hynes had a remarkable career, beginning as a reformer and ending amid controversy.
His career as Brooklyn district attorney began in the wake of his successful prosecution of a notorious racial attack in Howard Beach, Queens, as special state prosecutor for the New York City Criminal Justice System, a position to which he had been appointed by then-Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1985.
That incident involved a car carrying four black men that broke down in the predominantly white Howard Beach neighborhood. A group of youths using racial slurs accosted the black men outside a pizza parlor. One victim was chased onto a highway where he was killed by an oncoming vehicle, while another was beaten by a bat.
Hynes was able to win three convictions for manslaughter and persuade the judge to impose stiff consecutive sentences. This raised Hynes’ profile and led to his victorious run for district attorney in 1989.
Among his many accomplishments as DA were the initiation of the Drug Treatment Alternative-to-Prison Program (DTAP), and a variety of public safety programs including ComAlert, which helped aid individuals on probation or parole as they re-entered their Brooklyn communities.
He also has helped implement a citywide program to monitor convicted domestic violence offenders, in collaboration with former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. This was a particularly important issue for Hynes, whose mother was the victim of domestic violence. He subsequently opened the Family Justice Center within the DA’s office that provided a range of services for domestic violence victims in a single location, and which became a nationwide model.
However, Hynes’s later career was marked by a series of controversies, including allegations that his office had used improper evidence to win murder convictions in nearly two dozen cases.
Hynes’s successor Kenneth Thompson opened a conviction review unit, maintained by current DA Eric Gonzalez, that was instrumental in overturning those cases and setting free many innocent people who had languished in jail for years.
In addition, his reputation suffered from allegations that Hynes funneled more than $200,000 in forfeited funds from drug and other criminal investigations into his failed 2013 re-election campaign.
The probe was prompted by a scathing report by the city’s Department of Investigation that concluded that the misuse of funds, according to a report in the Associated Press, could amount to larceny.
Hynes was also criticized by some for being soft on crime in Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community. He was accused of catering to the influential rabbis who did not want criminal cases, especially sex abuse cases, handled by secular authorities. Hynes denied the allegations.
Hynes was a Democrat who lost the 2013 Democratic primary to Thompson, and then, running on the Republican and Conservative lines which he had previously secured, as he had in prior elections, lost again resoundingly to Thompson on election night, 2013.
Hynes graduated from St. John’s University in 1957 and received his J.D. in 1961, also from St. John’s University. After working as an associate attorney in the early ‘60s, Hynes became an assistant district attorney in the Kings County district attorney’s office in 1971, before being named first district attorney in 1973.
In 1975, Gov. Hugh Carey and Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz appointed Hynes special state prosecutor for Nursing Homes and Social Services.
Under Mayor Ed Koch, Hynes served as New York City fire commissioner from 1980 to 1982. Between 1983 and 1985 he served as commissioner for the New York State Commission of Investigation.
Former Councilmember Lew Fidler summed up Hynes’ legacy in a Facebook post.
“People don’t appreciate what Joe Hynes did for criminal justice reform in this country,” he wrote. “Things that are accepted NOW in EVERY DA’s office in the country as “of course” were started and instituted by Joe Hynes. Things like Domestic Violence bureaus, and drug treatment as an alternative to prison or programs to reintegrate those returning from prison to their home communities….ALL of which were PROVEN to reduce recidivism and crime and started first by Joe Hynes.. Joe Hynes proved that being a TOUGH DA was not as important as being a SMART one. In his last years, there were mistakes made on his watch. NO ONE bats 1000. BUT what he accomplished in life was ENORMOUS. We are all benefiting today from his vision and the work being done today to further reduce crime and incarceration is all being done on his shoulders. People forget that we are still [benefiting] today from the reforms he brought to the nursing home industry. People forget the significance of his fight for justice in Howard Beach, what it meant at a very different time and place in our City. Joe Hynes was a GREAT MAN. This is his true legacy. I was proud to know him. Prouder to have played a role in his election as DA. Proudest to call him my friend. RIP Charles J. Hynes.”
Former Brooklyn Conservative Party Chair Jerry Kassar knew Hynes and was saddened by his death.
“I always had a very good relationship with him and I thought from the perspective of public service he did a very good job,” Kassar told this paper.
“I found Joe Hynes to be a very good district attorney. He had a very long public service career in a number of positions. I always found him to be dedicated, hardworking and honorable.”
Hynes had an apartment at Oliver Street and Marine Avenue in Bay Ridge and a home in Breezy Point. He and his wife Patricia had five children.
“I know some of his children and I’m very saddened for them,” Kassar added. “Joe and his family are in my prayers.”