By John Alexander
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 in December 1986. A group of youths using racial slurs accosted the black men outside a pizza parlor. One of the victims, Michael Griffith, was chased onto a highway where he was killed by an oncoming vehicle; another was beaten with a bat.
Hynes was able to land three manslaughter convictions 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 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 a victim of domestic violence. He subsequently opened the Family Justice Center within the DA’s office to provide a range of services for domestic violence victims in a single location, which later became a nationwide model.
Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown remembered Hynes as a friend.
“I was deeply saddened to learn this morning of the passing of former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes,” Brown said. “Joe was my friend and colleague in government who spent nearly five decades in dedicated service to the people of Kings County as he rose from the ranks to become Kings County’s longest serving District Attorney.”
“I extend my most heartfelt condolences to his wife, Pat, and his entire family who will remain in our thoughts and prayers,” Brown continued. “We will very much miss his friendship.”
Despite his many accomplishments, Hynes’s later career was marked by a series of controversies, including allegations that his office had used improper evidence and forced witnesses to testify to win murder convictions in nearly two dozen cases.
Hynes’s successor Kenneth Thompson revamped the office's conviction review unit, maintained by current DA Eric Gonzalez, which 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 from 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. He then continued his campaign on the Republican and Conservative lines and ultimately lost, resoundingly, to Thompson in the general election.
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.
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.