Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins has launched an independent investigation of a former prosecutor and high-profile advocate for criminal justice reform accused of sexually assaulting a New York City woman in 2017.
Adam Foss, who worked at the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office from 2008 to 2016, faces allegations of engaging in behavior that was “either inappropriate, an abuse of authority, unethical, or illegal,” Rollins said in tweets Friday.
Rollins, who said she considers Foss a friend, learned of the allegations earlier last week from a blog post. The posting was written by Raegan Sealy, a 28-year-old singer and writer living in New York, who said she was assaulted by Foss in his hotel room. Sealy is being identified by the Globe with her permission.
In a statement to the Globe provided by her attorney Kim West Saturday, Sealy said she was aware of several other women who “suffered through their own experiences with Adam Foss.”
“In the days since the posting, a dozen more courageous women from the fields of law, entertainment, education and TED staff have emerged to share their stories,” according to Sealy’s statement.
Rollins’s office declined to comment on the investigation, including whether any other women had made allegations, but in her statement, the Suffolk district attorney refers to “women.”
“In any situation, sharing intimate details of deception, coercion, manipulation and sexual assault can be difficult and takes courage,” Rollins said. “I am grateful to the women who have come forward.”
Foss was hired by former Suffolk district attorney Dan Conley. Rollins, who took over as the Suffolk district attorney from Conley in January 2019, said she has never worked in a job with Foss.
However, Foss and Rollins were both volunteers in leadership roles for a statewide civic association, Rollins said. She said she secured the law firm Goodwin Procter LLP to conduct an investigation into Foss’s conduct with the assistance of Boston police in order to “ensure the integrity of the process and avoid an appearance of conflict.”
Rollins said in the statement posted to social media: “Although I personally will not be conducting the investigation, I am deeply invested in its truthful outcome.”
Foss endorsed Rollins during her campaign, and on her website, she refers to him as a “Criminal Justice Reform Icon.” The two also appeared together for a 2018 HUBweek event hosted by the Boston Globe.
According to an online biography, Foss worked in the juvenile division of the district attorney’s office.
Goodwin Procter attorneys Roberto Braceras and Jennifer Chunias will also be investigating allegations that could have civil or administrative ramifications.
In an e-mail, Braceras and Chunias declined comment Saturday. Foss did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.
Sealy’s allegations against Foss were reported Friday by WBUR’s Deborah Becker.
Foss, in a statement to WBUR, said some of his “callous and insensitive behavior has caused many people anguish,” but denied any allegations of “nonconsensual sexual relations.”
“With respect to District Attorney Rachael Rollins’ recent statement referencing a pending investigation, I do not wish to compromise that process by commenting further,” Foss told WBUR. “In addition, this is a more appropriate time for me to listen than to speak,”
Sealy is aware of Foss’s public response to the allegations, according to the statement sent to the Globe on Saturday.
“Irrespective of what Mr. Foss says, Ms. Sealy wants any women out there to know that when they are ready to tell their stories, they will be supported and believed,” the statement said.
Sealy said she met Foss during a 2017 conference, and described a series of contacts between the two that ultimately led to an encounter in Foss’s hotel room.
After her account was published, other women wrote on social media about their experiences alleging sexual harassment from with Foss.
Sealy said she has spoken to other women who have had “bad experiences” with Foss but were afraid to speak up.
“So we’re left to rely on this whisper network; privately warning other women of this destroyer, if and when we can,” she wrote.
Foss has gained national acclaim for his work encouraging prosecutorial discretion and putting an end to mass incarceration. He’s appeared on stage with luminaries such as then-Senator Kamala Harris and musician Alicia Keys at a 2016 event hosted by Politico.
Foss has also worked with singer John Legend, who contributed money to help established the nonprofit group Prosecutor Impact, which provides training to prosecutors.
He became well-known for his TED Talks urging prosecutors to use greater discretion while working on cases. On Saturday, TED said in a statement that some have called on the organization to remove videos of Foss’s presentations from the web.
While they understand and respect that perspective, “we nonetheless believe both that TED Talks are part of the historical record and that leaving the talk online is consistent with our publishing standards. We will continue to monitor the investigation,” the organization said.
Conley said in an interview Saturday that he knew nothing about any allegations concerning Foss.
“During my time as district attorney, no one came to me with any allegations or complaints that Adam Foss had committed sexual harassment or any sort of sexual violence,” Conley said. “No one came to any member of my executive team to make those allegations.”
Conley said he would not have tolerated such behavior.
“Had anyone come forward with such allegations, we would have investigated those allegations fully, and if corroborated, Mr. Foss would have been terminated immediately,” he said.
Rollins, in her statement, said she pledged to acknowledge and remedy any potential past failings or inactions by the office she leads. Her office must provide a safe, inclusive, and healthy work environment for the staff and every person who comes into contact with the district attorney’s office, she said.
“This will not be a quick or easy process and it is important to give anyone that may have their own story to share the time and space to do so in a safe and comfortable way,” Rollins said. “Every allegation will be investigated fairly and thoroughly. At the end of the investigation, I want people to have felt heard and valued.”
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.