New York Police Department’s Policy-Shaping Legal Czar, Lawrence Byrne, Dies At 61
Lawrence Byrne, the top prosecutor in the New York Police Department during a tense time that followed a court ban on cops frisking civilians without cause, Eric Garner’s chokehold death, and the admission that police spied on law-abiding Muslims after 9/11, died. He’d been 61.
Byrne died following a heart attack Thursday in a Manhattan hospital on Sunday, the police department said.
Byrne was at the frontline of administrative reforms and legal struggles as Deputy Commissioner of Legal Affairs from September 2014 until his resignation in July 2018, impacting everything from how officers walk the beat to the public’s willingness to know which officers have been disciplined for wrongdoing.
In lawsuits over its spying on Muslims, Byrne defended the agency. He interpreted a state confidentiality statute in a manner that protected from public scrutiny the administrative history of police suspected of abuse. He embraced the use of judicial subpoenas without the permission of a court for further inquiries. When a court found that the tactic known as stop-and-frisk was racist and illegal, he helped develop new measures.
Byrne oversaw over 100 attorneys in the police department’s legal division and set up a team of about 30 lawyers. He did this to mitigate the expense of litigation by prosecuting and protecting officers from false charges.
“Larry Byrne systematically fought any effort at external oversight, be it through (public records requests), from the City Council, or the Mayor’s Office,” Albert Fox Cahn, the founder and executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, told The Intercept in August. “He wanted the NYPD to be a self-governing entity.”
Byrne’s death left devastated and disappointed many people in law enforcement.
His long-time associate, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, said in a statement
that Byrne had “great judgment” and “always had empathy for the right things.”
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea called Byrne a “great lawyer” and a “advocate for all of New York City’s people.”
“It’s just a real sad day for the NYPD,” Shea told WPIX-TV.
Byrne was a federal prosecutor in Manhattan and the United States. The Criminal Division of the Justice Department in Washington; served at numerous law firms, and had two stints with a Freeh-established business risk management company shortly before. According to his LinkedIn profile, Byrne was a director and senior advisor at the company until last month.
Byrne ended the tradition of releasing administrative reports of officers to the media at the NYPD, claiming that a state civil rights statute barred the police from doing so.
Byrne also defended the NYPD procedure, reported by stories in the New York Daily News and ProPublica, of filing litigation under the nuisance reduction statute of the state that had the effect of driving individuals from their homes even though they were not guilty of a felony.
In 2015, Byrne told the Daily News that the law does not require a criminal conviction and does not directly (a) particular disposition of a criminal case. Also, it does not even require an arrest of anyone.
In 2018, shortly before retirement, Byrne told the Justice Department that before pursuing departmental charges against an officer whose chokehold triggered Eric Garner’s death four years ago. The NYPD will no longer wait until the conclusion of a federal civil rights investigation. After an internal administrative hearing, the cop, Daniel Pantaleo got bail.
Byrne’s brother, Edward, was 22 when while seated in a marked patrol car patrolling a witness’s home in Queens in 1988, he was shot and killed at the behest of a jailed drug trafficker. For 22 years, their dad, Matt, was an officer.
The death of Edward Byrne garnered media coverage. When vying for the White House, former President George H.W. Bush kept his badge with him, and a significant grant initiative from the Justice Department is named in his memory.
Lawrence Byrne and his family have testified before the state parole board over the years. They don’t want the killer of his brother be released.
Police union President Pat Lynch said that Byrne fought relentlessly to see that his brother’s killers. And that all police murderers never avoided justice.
Byrne’s survivors, the police department said, include his mother, brothers, and three sons planned a funeral at St. James’s Church in Seaford.