Alton H. Maddox Jr., a prominent defense lawyer based in New York, who gained notoriety by leading high-profile, racially charged cases, has passed away, reports the New York Daily News. He was 77.

Isaiah Owens, a funeral director, confirmed that Maddox passed at a nursing home in the Bronx but did not disclose a cause of death. For the last several years, Maddox had suffered from dementia.

Born in Inkster, Michigan, Maddox grew up in Georgia. He later graduated from Howard University and received a law degree at Boston College. When he returned to Georgia, he was beaten and arrested by police over a parking dispute. This incident further cemented his commitment to fight against racial injustice that was rampant in police departments.

After law school, he worked for Harlem Legal Services and went on to lead a juvenile justice project for the National Conference of Black Lawyers. He began his law practice in 1981, where he quickly gained a reputation in New York for advocating for Black victims of police brutality. Using the media to deploy accusatory rhetoric at New York’s law enforcement, he described himself as an “attorney-at-war.”

In 1986, Maddox served as counsel for Cedric Sandiford, who was one of three Black men who were chased and attacked by a group of white men in Howard Beach in 1986. He also served as counsel to the family of Michael Griffith, who was fatally struck by a car during the Howard Beach attack. Nine people were convicted of various charges in Griffith’s death.

He represented Tawana Brawley, who had garnered national attention by alleging that she was abducted and raped over four days by a group of white men including former prosecutor Steven Pagones after she was found by her home in Wappingers Falls, N.Y. In 1988, a grand jury ruled that Brawley fabricated the entire story.

Although Maddox dropped out of the public eye, his unwavering commitment to fight for the freedom and rights of Black people left an undeniable impact on the city of New York and beyond.

Mayor Eric Adams paid tribute to Maddox in a statement. “He was a legal genius who used his legal knowledge as a shield, and swiped to fight on behalf of marginalized people of color,” his statement read.

Maddox is survived by his son Charles. 

We at EBONY extend our prayers and deepest condolences to the family and friends of Alton H. Maddox Jr.