NEW YORK (AP) - A longtime New York City prosecutor and former judge who presided over the arraignment of "Son of Sam" killer David Berkowitz will retire at the end of the year, he said Wednesday.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, who was appointed in 1991, said he plans on completing his term but would skip what was shaping up to be a tough re-election fight. The 86-year-old has been battling Parkinson's disease for the past few years and said he came to the decision "after careful thought and consideration."
Brown, a Democrat, ran unopposed six times and become the borough's longest-serving district attorney, but he would have faced competition this time around. The borough president, a city councilman and a former judge were already jockeying for the job before Brown's announcement.
In a statement, Brown said he was "deeply appreciative and humbled to have had the trust and confidence" of voters for so long.
"While it is difficult to say goodbye, I am comforted by the knowledge that I leave a legacy of accomplishment, excellence and government at its best, for which anyone can be proud," said Brown, who is married with two daughters, a son and two grandchildren.
Brown was never a prosecutor until Gov. Mario Cuomo picked him from 14 candidates to replace retiring DA John Santucci.
His tenure has tracked with a precipitous drop in crime in New York City and shifts in how police and prosecutors combat crime. In 1991, there were more than 2,100 homicides in the city. Last year, there were fewer than 300.
Years before a shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, shone a spotlight on police killing unarmed black men, Brown pursued criminal charges against three detectives in the 2006 death of Sean Bell, who was shot leaving a nightclub the morning of his planned wedding. They were acquitted by a judge, but the police department fired them.
Critics have knocked Brown as a relic of a tough-on-crime era that saw scores of mostly poor minorities put behind bars for low-level quality-of-life offenses. Last fall, protesters chanted "Take Down Dick Brown" as they rallied at a Queens courthouse against what they called his "uniquely punitive policies."
Brown was born in Brooklyn, but his official biography notes he "has been a lifelong resident of Queens since age five."
Brown, a 1956 graduate of New York University's law school, worked for the state assembly and was Mayor John Lindsay's legislative representative in Albany before being appointed as a criminal court judge in 1973.
Brown served on the bench for 18 years, interrupting his tenure in 1979 to serve as Gov. Hugh Carey's chief legal adviser. He returned to the courtroom in 1981 and is still widely known in legal circles as "Judge Brown."
On Brown's first day as a judge, a defendant pulled out a gun and started shooting in the courtroom. Brown saved himself by dropping to the floor behind his bench. The episode earned him the nickname "Duck Down Brown."
Brown presided over Berkowitz's arraignment in 1977 under heavy security and intense public interest. He ordered the then-24-year-old postal worker to undergo psychiatric testing and said that he should be jailed under maximum security conditions, away from other inmates.
"I remember the courtroom was packed to the rafters," Brown told The Associated Press in 2017. "It was almost like the air was taken out of the room when he walked in."
Statement from Queens County District Attorney Richard A. Brown
After almost six decades in public service, the last 27 years spent as District Attorney of Queens County, and after careful thought and consideration, I have made the decision to finish out my current term and not seek re-election.
It has been an honor and privilege to have served the people of Queens County – the most ethnically diverse county in the world – for these many years as district attorney. I am deeply appreciative and humbled to have had the trust and confidence that they have expressed by electing me to seven full terms in office and, in the process, making me the longest serving district attorney in Queens County history.
When I was appointed District Attorney by then Governor Mario M. Cuomo in 1991, one of my chief goals was to elevate the standards of professionalism in the office by hiring people on merit, not political connections. Without question, we have overwhelmingly achieved that goal.
Whatever success I have attained over the years is due in large measure to the fact that from the very beginning I have surrounded myself with the most talented, capable and dedicated professionals imaginable – men and women of exceptional ability and commitment. Because of them, our office is among the best prosecutors' offices in the State – indeed, the best in the country. I thank each of them for their loyalty and service to me and more importantly for their loyalty to the rule of law and service to the people of Queens County. Together with our law enforcement partners we have contributed greatly to the city's historic reduction in serious crime and created safer neighborhoods for all our residents.
Apart, however, from our historic reductions in violent crime and auto thefts to name but a few, I am proud of our many innovations that have improved not only our criminal justice system but our entire community. I am grateful that the many specialty courts we pioneered – like having one of the State's first Drug Courts, as well as a Mental Health Court and Veterans Court – have enjoyed enduring success and have been duplicated around the nation. One of our most innovative alternative sentencing programs, is the Queens Court Academy, a high school operated on our premises in conjunction with the NYC Department of Education. Young offenders are not only spared incarceration, but are given the opportunity to complete high school and avoid re-arrest. There is no other similar program in New York State or, to my knowledge, in the country.
Our Queens Treatment Intervention Program (QTIP) is making great strides to address the scourge of opioid addiction by not only avoiding criminal convictions but by saving lives and providing treatment and counseling. We are national leaders in handling domestic violence prosecutions and have been on the forefront of innovative prosecutions to combat human trafficking and animal cruelty. In order to protect our immigrant population I created an Office of Immigrant Affairs to assist them in accessing and navigating our criminal justice system. Additionally, our in-house training programs for the professional staff have been utilized throughout the state.
We have instituted technological changes that allow us to process arrests more quickly than any county in the City of New York, thus allowing police officers to get back on patrol sooner and defendants to be arraigned faster. From the time I was first appointed district attorney we have had a riding ADA program in which ADAs are on call 24 hours a day to respond to scenes of serious crimes and provide assistance to police. We are the only DA's office to send an ADA to every lineup in the county to ensure that lineups are conducted properly and to minimize the risk of a misidentification. Our Crime Victims Advocacy Program provides critical assistance to the victims of crime and their families.
We have been a leading advocate for improvements in criminal justice legislation, including measures to ensure the recording of interrogations, enhanced identification procedures and for the sealing of old convictions.
As I finish my tenure as Queens District Attorney, I will continue to seek innovations to help all of our 2.4 million residents and ensure that I leave my office dedicated to the standard of excellence which has been our hallmark.
While it is difficult to say goodbye, I am comforted by the knowledge that I leave a legacy of accomplishment, excellence and government at its best, for which anyone can be proud.
On behalf of my entire family, I offer my best wishes and warmest thanks."