Attorney General Maura Healey was right to launch a review of a complaint about an alleged Christmas Eve road rage incident involving Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins, who is reportedly under consideration for the job of United States attorney for the district of Massachusetts. Now, in the interest of fairness to Rollins — and the integrity of the search for the next US attorney — that review should be thorough and quick.
Getting to the bottom of this encounter should not be that difficult; it happened mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve, in a crowded shopping center. Security camera video might be available, and if so, that could easily determine the truth of what happened. As uncomfortable as it may be for Healey to investigate a law enforcement colleague, it’s in the public interest to do it. It’s in Rollins’s interest, too, if the allegations are false, as she says.
The first Black woman to hold the job as Suffolk DA, Rollins came to office with a thoughtful and creative reform agenda that included reduced prosecution for minor crimes and an openness to vacating wrongful convictions. She has also called for more police accountability and transparency about police misconduct, which makes her unpopular in some law enforcement circles. She’s generally accessible to the media and willing to explain her criminal justice philosophy.
In a citizen’s complaint filed with Boston police on Dec. 24, Katie Lawson of Dorchester alleged that on that day, around 1:30 p.m., she was driving in the South Bay Mall parking lot toward the Mass. Ave. exit when another vehicle cut her off near Stop & Shop. According to the complaint, the woman in that second vehicle — described as a black Chevy Tahoe with tinted windows — yelled at her, saying, “Today is not the day to try me.” According to the complaint, “The woman then activated emergency lights and exited the parking lot, failing to stop for a red light on Mass. Ave., while holding a cell phone to her ear.” A passenger in Lawson’s car took a photo of the license plate of the other vehicle, which turned out to be issued to the district attorney’s office. Lawson’s complaint was first disclosed by two bloggers, Turtleboy Sports of Worcester and liveboston617.org. In the statement, Lawson said Rollins “approached my car as I tried to merge and said ‘you want me to give you a ticket, I will give you a ticket,’ as she turned on the strobes and sirens.” She said Rollins took a right onto Mass Ave. and “proceeded to blow through the red light.”
Lawson also filed the complaint with the AG’s office and has been interviewed.
On the Howie Carr radio show on Jan. 8, Rollins said she was in a situation she described as “standstill traffic” when someone “driving erratically . . . almost hit my car.” As the other car approached, “I beep, they don’t pay attention. Two beeps, they don’t pay attention. They’re coming closer and closer to my car going the wrong way in traffic,” said Rollins. “I then hit a siren” to let the other driver know, “Stop, you’re in the wrong row of traffic.” According to Rollins, that was the extent of the interaction. “There is absolutely no truth to me putting blue lights on,” she told Carr.
On Jan. 8, Rollins also had an encounter with a Boston 25 news crew that came to her home to try to question her about the incident. She was hardly the first public official to get an unwelcome visit at home from a reporter. During this encounter, Rollins threatened to call police and have the news person arrested, saying that putting her home on camera put her children’s safety at risk.
In a statement issued afterward to Boston 25 and the Globe, Matthew Brelis, a spokesman for Rollins, said, “District Attorney Rollins ran for office and has led with unprecedented transparency and access. She has been and remains available to her constituents, colleagues, and members of the media and has never avoided a difficult conversation.” He said the timing of the Boston 25 encounter — two days after the attack on the US Capitol — heightened Rollins’s anxiety. When “an unknown vehicle with an unknown man approached her in front of her home, where she is the mother and guardian to three young girls,” she responded “not as an elected official, but as a mother, an aunt and a caregiver who believes her primary responsibility is to love and protect her family.”
Last fall, when she released a list of police officers who were accused of misconduct, Rollins said, “As members of law enforcement, we are held to a higher standard. We in law enforcement cannot adequately perform our duties if the community does not trust us or believes that we lack integrity.” That holds especially true for a US attorney, one of the most powerful law enforcement officials in the state. If Healey finds that Rollins abused her authority, the Biden administration should know before considering her for a powerful job; likewise, if the attorney general exonerates Rollins, it’s only fair to lift the cloud before the new president makes his selection.
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