Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins is set to be sworn in as US attorney on Monday, and will take office without a federal security detail, despite requests for protection amid recent threats, according to two people with direct knowledge.
Rollins, the first Black woman to serve as US attorney for Massachusetts, submitted her resignation letter to Governor Charlie Baker on Wednesday afternoon. Baker is expected to soon name Rollins’s successor, who will serve in an acting role until Rollins’s term expires at the end of the year.
Rollins, who was narrowly confirmed by the US Senate early last month, will officially take the reins Monday following a swearing in by US District Court Chief Judge F. Dennis Saylor at the Moakley Courthouse.
Rollins has lobbied federal marshals in recent weeks for a full-time security detail, saying racist online attacks and death threats have only increased since her confirmation vote in which Republicans attacked her as a dangerous, pro-criminal prosecutor. She plans to continue trying to persuade officials she needs security, according to two people with direct knowledge.
In late December, dozens of Boston clergy and community leaders wrote US Attorney General Merrick Garland and expressed dismay that the government had declined to provide her protection.
“We deplore the continuing death threats against her life, and we are very aware of forces across this country, and within our cities and towns, that seek to further divide our nation along racial lines.” said the letter, written on Twelfth Baptist Church letterhead. “We implore you to immediately provide security for US Attorney Rollins and will hold you accountable to provide her protection.”
The US Marshals office, which provides protection for 30,000 federal employees, was apparently unmoved. The office has not changed its stance, according to the person with direct knowledge.
Michelle Coghill, spokeswoman for the US Marshals Service, declined to comment on Rollins’s request, saying in an e-mailed statement:
“The U.S. Marshals Service takes seriously its duty to protect federal judicial officials — including judges and prosecutors — across the country. We continuously review security measures for these officials, and take appropriate actions as warranted, but for safety reasons we do not discuss specific security protocols.”
Rollins, through a spokesman, declined to comment Wednesday afternoon.
In her letter to Baker, Rollins said serving as district attorney was the “greatest honor of my career.”
During her time in office, she noted, the county saw a decline in violent crimes and homicides. She attributed the drop in crime to her collaborative work with the county’s “dedicated law enforcement partners,” according to the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Globe.
“My platform was clear: divert our overwhelming attention from the non-serious, non-violent crimes so we could focus our limited resources on prosecuting and preventing the most serious, violent crimes in Suffolk County,” she wrote.
“The voters of Suffolk County overwhelmingly supported this platform,” the letter said. “This is the approach to public safety they wanted, and whoever assumes this office should respect the voters’ wishes.”
A Baker aide declined to comment on Rollins’s resignation.
Rollins and other local leaders have been vocal about the threats sent to her and her office.
Though the federal marshals do not routinely provide security to federal officials, they do offer extensive protection for those deemed to face serious threats. For example, the marshals provided around-the-clock protection for former education secretary Betsy DeVos after she was heckled and blocked by protesters from entering a school in 2017, according to published reports.
The office has previously investigated threats against Rollins, according to two people with direct knowledge. One author of a threatening e-mail apologized, the two people said, and marshals concluded Rollins was at low risk.
A June audit of the Marshals Service by the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General found the agency did not have the resources or “proactive threat detection capabilities” to meet its obligation to protect federal officials, including judges.
Rollins, who has served as Suffolk district attorney since 2019, has had a dedicated Boston Police executive protection unit, whose members drive her and provide protection.
Other federal leaders, including most cabinet officials, are provided security as part of their job. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, for example, travels with a federal security detail and when he’s home in Boston, a Boston police officer is posted outside his house — at the request of the Department of Labor, according to a Boston Police spokesman.
The Secret Service protects certain Cabinet-level officials — including the secretary of homeland security and secretary of the treasury — and senior White House staff often considered critical to national security, including the White House chief of staff and national security adviser.
The Rev. Jeffrey Brown, associate pastor of the Historic Twelfth Baptist Church who helped organize the letter-writing campaign, said the local group received no response from Garland or other federal officials.
“I’m very disappointed,” he said. “There needs to be public safety for our public servants, particularly for those progressive leaders of color who are getting this horrible backlash from these crazy folks. We can’t wait until something actually happens in order for the attorney general to act. We need to move now.”
Two former US attorneys for Massachusetts, Carmen Ortiz and Michael Sullivan, said they rarely had security details, but understand why Rollins’s situation may be different.
“It’s very unusual for a US attorney to get that level of attention,” Sullivan said of Rollins. “When it generates that type of hate mail, you’d expect the FBI and marshals to be concerned.”
“I think times have changed,” said Ortiz, who served as US attorney from 2009 to 2017. “Our country has become more divided. ... She may be more of a target for individuals who don’t agree with her policies and don’t accept the new position that she’s in.”
As Suffolk district attorney, Rollins blazed her own trail, leading efforts to investigate police misconduct in past convictions and moving to invalidate thousands of drug convictions linked to the scandal-plagued, now-closed Hinton Lab in Jamaica Plain. Throughout her tenure, Rollins, a Democrat, has been unabashed about her politics and progressive approach to law enforcement.
Her selection by President Biden for the post sparked controversy last year, with the Senate Judiciary Committee splitting evenly on her nomination, 11-11, along political lines. Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who led the opposition, called her “so radical” that she is without precedent as a US attorney nominee. He claimed she “wants to destroy the criminal justice system from within.”
Because of the deadlock, a majority of senators needed to agree to consider her nomination. In early December, the US Senate split its vote, 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the 51st, tie-breaking vote in Rollins’s favor.
Since her confirmation, Rollins said, threats against her have grown more vicious. A racist e-mail sent to the Suffolk district attorney’s office on Dec. 9 warned that “SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE IS PLOTTING TO PUT ONE IN YOUR FACE OR HEAD!!!
“You’ll probably die ... I don’t have the (nerve) to outright kill someone ... but keep going and you will find one (who does have the nerve) ... I hope,” said the e-mail, which Rollins turned over to the US Marshals Service for investigation.
Andrea Estes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.