Mourners from all across the city came to St. Thomas More Church in Breezy Point, Queens to remember Brooklyn’s longest serving district attorney, Charles “Joe” Hynes. The overflowing memorial mass took place on Sat., Feb. 2 and brought out a who’s who of elected officials, community leaders, and NYPD and FDNY members who had worked with the former district attorney.
Hynes died on Tues., Jan. 29 at the age of 83. He had served 24 years as district attorney.
His wife of 50 years Patricia Hynes stood with her sons Sean and Patrick. She was given a flag and a fire helmet in her husband’s memory.
Sean Hynes remembered his father as someone who always strived to do the right thing. “Joe Hynes taught us that we should do our best and do it with integrity,” Sean said.
Among those attending the service were New York State Attorney General Letitia James, U.S. Rep. Peter King, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro, NYPD Deputy Chief Charles Scholl, former FDNY Commissioner Sal Cassano, retiring New York State Conservative Party Chair Mike Long, former Brooklyn Republican Party Chair Craig Eaton, former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, attorney Arthur Aidala, Democratic District Leader Joe Bova, and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, who called Hynes “an innovative prosecutor before reform prosecutors were popular.”
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.
He also had 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.
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.
A ceremonial vintage 1951 fire truck was parked outside the church in remembrance of Hynes’ FDNY service, saluting him as the 24th fire commissioner, with a wreath placed on the back of the truck in his memory.
“Any commissioner that follows Joe, I think would be wise to be a lot like him,” said Nigro.
The Emerald Society bagpipes procession led family members down Rockaway Point Boulevard to Blessed Trinity Parish and St. Thomas More Church.
At Hynes’ request, the funeral was held without his body which he had donated to a medical facility in Florida for scientific research.