The House voted overwhelmingly Thursday to remove one of its own for the first time in nearly a century, expelling state Representative Carlos Henriquez, a two-term lawmaker convicted on two misdemeanor assault charges.
After an hour and a half of occasionally emotional debate and a personal appeal from Henriquez, lawmakers rejected a milder proposal to censure the Dorchester Democrat and voted, 146 to 5, to strip him of his office.
“We cannot lose sight of the fact that there is a victim involved,” Ethics Committee vice chairman David Nangle, a Lowell Democrat, told colleagues. “There is a victim of a violent domestic crime. We cannot sit idly by and ignore the severity of the charges against our colleague.”
A special election will be held to fill Henriquez’s seat, which covers parts of Dorchester and Roxbury, with an election for a new term coming in the fall. Henriquez, who was ordered to serve six months of his 2½-year sentence, is scheduled to be released in July, in time to potentially try to recapture his seat.
Henriquez’s expulsion on the heels of his Jan. 15 conviction capped an emotional three-week stretch that saw him brought from a Middlesex County jail to the State House three times in handcuffs to appear before the Ethics Committee, as House leaders tried to pressure him to resign.
‘The truth always remains the same. The truth is, I never touched my accuser in any way, at any point in time, that would result in harm or injury. Although a jury found me guilty . . . it does not change my truth.’CARLOS HENRIQUEZ
On Thursday, an unshackled Henriquez, 37, wore a suit and tie on the House floor, where security escorted him to his customary seat. After Nangle’s opening remarks, Henriquez made his way to the rostrum to declare his innocence.
“The truth always remains the same,” he said in remarks that lasted about six minutes. “The truth is, I never touched my accuser in any way, at any point in time, that would result in harm or injury. Although a jury found me guilty . . . it does not change my truth.”
After he spoke, Henriquez left the chamber — of his own accord, House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office said — and returned to jail. House leaders had said previously that Henriquez was entitled to stay and answer questions during debate, though he could not be present for the vote.
House members sat mostly stone-faced during the session, then cast what some called the most difficult votes of their careers.
“The task is an unpleasant one; let’s not make any secrets about it,” Nangle said, “It’s not a good day for me, personally, and I’m sure it’s not a great day for a lot you sitting in this chamber here today.”
Questions about whether Henriquez would be eligible to serve again in the chamber — and even participate in a special election if he were released soon enough — brought brief moments of uncertainty to what was otherwise a fairly scripted session.
Representative Russell Holmes,who offered the amendment reducing the severity of the House action against Henriquez, said that Henriquez could be paroled in April, potentially before a special election.
Even if Henriquez is not paroled, the primary election for the seat will be in September, meaning he could seek the seat again, along with whichever candidate triumphs in the special election.
No date has yet been set for the special election. Henriquez has not indicated whether he would try to regain his seat.
On Thursday, Representative Garrett J. Bradley, a member of the Ethics Committee and House leadership, said the House can decide on an individual basis whether to seat candidates who have won election to the chamber.
Holmes’s censure proposal would have permitted Henriquez to retain his House post while serving his sentence. In floor remarks, Holmes, a Mattapan Democrat, said many people in his and Henriquez’s communities lack confidence in the judicial system, and he asserted that Henriquez had reviewed House rules and found that he had not violated any.
“The problem is Representative Henriquez has rights,” said Holmes. “He has them. And he is taking advantage of them. And what he has the right to do, sitting in his jail cell, is to look at the rules that we wrote and agreed to. He read them. You didn’t.”
But House leaders, in laying out a case against Henriquez, argued for the integrity of the institution and insisted that Henriquez’s confinement would prevent him from discharging the duties of his office. They urged colleagues to look at photos of the victim, which were available outside the House chamber. The photos, they said, showed multiple black-and-blue marks on her chest, torso, and arms.
“I was mortified when I saw the pictures,” Nangle told colleagues. “I had a sick feeling in my stomach. I can only imagine what might have been going through that young woman’s mind.”
Representative Christopher Fallon of Malden delivered the most forceful argument to eject Henriquez, saying, “We don’t have a choice today, Mr. Speaker and to my colleagues, because the gentleman from Boston has been found guilty of committing a crime and the gentleman from Boston has been found guilty of attacking a woman.”
Minutes before 3 p.m., in a roll call that took far less time than typical votes, the House voted for Henriquez’s ouster.
The five members voting against expulsion were Democrats Gloria L. Fox of Roxbury, Holmes, Denise Provost of Somerville, Carl Sciortino of Medford, and Benjamin Swan of Springfield.
In a statement after the vote, Sciortino said, “I do not believe Representative Henriquez should be serving in the House, but I also do not believe we have the constitutional authority to permanently expel a sitting member with a simple majority vote.”
No lawmaker had been expelled from the House since 1916. The last state lawmaker forced out of either chamber was Senate majority leader Joseph DiCarlo in 1977, who was convicted of taking bribes in connection with campus construction at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
The New England chapter of the NAACP made a last-minute bid Thursday morning to discourage lawmakers from moving against Henriquez, asserting that he had not violated House rules and that his conviction was under appeal.
“Representative Henriquez was duly elected by the electorate and there is no legal basis upon which the House of Representatives can properly act,” the civil rights group said.
The Ethics Committee voted Tuesday to recommend expulsion of Henriquez, after reviewing trial documents. During the trial, prosecutors said that Henriquez drove to Arlington to pick up 25-year-old Katherine Gonzalves, then drove into Boston, where she jumped from the car at a red light and sought police assistance.
Henriquez was found guilty of two assault misdemeanors, but acquitted of other charges, including striking the victim in the face and larceny.
Henriquez has maintained his innocence throughout, reiterating his stance in a three-page statement circulated among his colleagues Wednesday and again on the floor Thursday.
“Domestic violence is far too prevalent, especially in my community,” Henriquez said, calling it “a cowardly and shameful act.”