DA Rollins and Commissioner Gross issue unusual warning to gun violence suspects

Suffolk DA Rachael Rollins (right) and Boston Police Commissioner William Gross in February. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/file

In the wake of a triple shooting in Roxbury that left one man dead, Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins and Boston Police Commissioner William Gross issued an unusual warning: Fire a weapon and you will lose your freedom — and risk losing your life to the coronavirus while behind bars.

Rollins, who has pushed for the release of some nonviolent pretrial detainees and convicted inmates because of the health threat they face from the coronavirus, appeared early Monday in Roxbury, where three men had been shot. One man died in the shooting, which happened at about 10:38 p.m. Sunday at 52 Kensington Park. The two other victims had life-threatening injuries, police said.

“We have seen an uptick in gun violence. We are in a global pandemic. People need to be sheltering in place, essentially, and they aren’t complying,” Rollins said. “People need to hear this: If you have an illegal firearm, if you are brandishing a firearm, you will be held accountable, you will be arrested and you will be sent to jail.”

Rollins, whose office unsuccessfully fought to keep accused murderer William J. Utley in jail while he awaited trial, said “coronavirus outbreaks are happening and people are dying” as a result of being infected while incarcerated.

“You are going to be sent to a place where, unfortunately, you have a higher risk of potentially contracting COVID-19,” the disease caused by the coronavirus, Rollins said. “And nobody wants you harmed there, but you will not be able to remain outside in the community. We will hold you accountable and send you away.”

Gross, who also appeared at the murder scene, referred to the release of Utley and the release of another man he described as a gang member with a history of gun violence. Both were released by judges at the instruction of the Supreme Judicial Court, which has concluded COVID-19 creates an unconstitutional health crisis behind bars.

Gross said the judges are deciding to release pretrial detainees who pose a threat to peace in Boston’s neighborhoods, and that those rulings, even in the face of COVID-19, should stop.

“When you do things like that, it sets a mentality out on these streets that people can do what they want,” Gross said. “So remember that at a voting time. Hold people accountable. Everybody has to be accountable. This is unacceptable.”

“People who have been locked up for violent offenses and carrying a firearm should not be released” on personal recognizance, he said. “I could care less if they get sick in jail or not. They’re a danger to the community and [the courts] are sending the wrong mentality.”

Gross said the public is not paying the appropriate level of attention to the gun violence, noting the April 18 wounding of a 10-year-old girl who lived on Nazing Street in Roxbury, and the April 15 fatal shooting of 17-year-old Alissa King.

A suspect is in custody for King’s murder.

According to police, seven people were shot in Boston this weekend in five separate incidents. Police also recovered five illegal firearms.

Rollins and Gross both vowed to track down and fully prosecute those responsible for Sunday’s homicide, which happened in the Warren Gardens complex. No arrests were reported Monday. Gross reminded the public that anonymous tips can be called in at 800-494-TIPS.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh said he has asked Gross to determine whether released inmates are playing a role in the increase in gun violence in the city. Walsh said Gross was still researching the question.

“The commissioner has every right to be frustrated. A lot of work has been done to bring the violence down,” Walsh said at a news conference held to discuss the coronavirus. Walsh said he believes some people released early from jail or prison are partly responsible for increased violence in Boston.

“I am going to make the assumption that some of it is connected,” Walsh said. “Certainly, we are concerned.”

According to Boston police, the Kensington Park homicide was the 13th this year, compared with 12 last year at the time. Through April 28, police recorded 39 nonfatal shootings, compared with 34 nonfatal shootings during the same time period last year.

According to state courts officials, 824 pretrial detainees and sentenced inmates have been released from state and county prisons and jails since April 5 — including 63 in Suffolk County.


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