Charles Hynes, longtime Brooklyn district attorney, dies at 83

Longtime Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes is seen announcing an indictment of a Catholic priest in 2002. Photo Credit: Newsday/Mayita Mendez

Hynes, who served as Brooklyn DA from 1990 to 2013, was remembered by Mayor Bill de Blasio as “a dedicated public servant who loved our city.”

Longtime Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes is seen announcing an indictment of a Catholic priest in 2002.
Longtime Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes is seen announcing an indictment of a Catholic priest in 2002. Photo Credit: Todd Maisel

Charles Hynes, the former Brooklyn district attorney whose long tenure was marked by both success and controversy, died Tuesday. He was 83.

Hynes, known as “Joe," is probably best known for serving as special prosecutor in the infamous 1986 Howard Beach racial incident, in which a mob of white teens chased a young black man to his death on a roadway.

“He was one of those people who truly cared and cared about everything he did,” his son Sean Hynes said in a phone interview. “He wanted to make a difference in people’s lives and that’s what gave him his greatest satisfaction.”

Sean Hynes said his father had partially recovered from a 2016 stroke but had been battling “significant health issues” over the last year.

News of Hynes’ death brought condolence messages from Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York Attorney General Letitia James, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown and other former colleagues and public servants.

“Brooklyn’s own Charles Hynes was a dedicated public servant who loved our city,” de Blasio tweeted on Wednesday. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and all who loved him.”

Then-Gov. Mario Cuomo appointed Hynes to oversee the Howard Beach case, which resulted in manslaughter verdicts for three of the teens.

He won a 1989 bid for Brooklyn district attorney, a post he held through the end of 2013.

Hynes was lauded for his handling of the Howard Beach case and other high-profile crimes at a time when racial tensions were high in New York City.

During his years as district attorney, he focused on domestic violence and disclosed his own troubled childhood with an abusive father. He was also praised for the use of drug treatment programs as alternatives to prison for non-violent felons.

“He knew that bringing justice was not just necessarily putting people behind bars,” Sean Hynes said.

But Hynes’ reputation was marred in later years as a series of murder convictions were overturned. Critics also said he was less than vigilant in pursuing sex abuse cases involving the Orthodox Jewish community because he needed their political backing.

In 2013, Hynes engaged in a bruising battle to keep his seat despite losing the Democratic primary to Ken Thompson. He was defeated in the general election after switching to run on the Republican line.

He was investigated for using money from the DA’s office to pay for political consultants. In March 2018, he agreed to a $40,000 settlement with the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board for using staff and city resources to work on his campaign.

Hynes was born in Brooklyn and received his law degree at St. John’s University. He started as a Legal Aid attorney before joining the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office in 1969. Gov. Hugh Carey appointed him to probe nursing home fraud as a special prosecutor in 1975.

He served as New York City Fire Commissioner under Mayor Ed Koch from 1980 to 1982 and went into private practice before returning to the public sector as a special prosecutor.

“One of the things he said — he knew he was getting close to the end — was telling us to just continue to do your best in everything and do it with integrity,” Sean Hynes said. “That’s really what his message was.”

Hynes is survived  by his wife, Patricia, and children, Sean, Kevin and Patrick Hynes, Jeanne Cook and Lisa Kellachan. A funeral is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Thomas More Church in Breezy Point.

Lisa L. Colangelo