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New Suffolk DA creates unit to reduce illegal guns in Greater Boston

Media roundtable with US Attorney Rachael Rollins.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Seeing a need for quick action to avert increased crime, Suffolk District Attorney Kevin R. Hayden has created a special team of prosecutors focused solely on illegal gun seizures.

“Violent crime may be down. Homicides may be down,”’ he said in an interview Thursday. “But guns getting to a level that is dangerously high can have an extraordinary impact real fast, real quick. And I don’t think we want to see that tipping point happen.”

Hayden took office in January after his predecessor, Rachael Rollins, became US attorney for Massachusetts. Rollins gained national attention for pushing a reformist agenda that de-emphasized prosecuting certain minor crimes.

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Hayden, who is charting a more centrist approach as he runs for the Democratic nomination for a full term this fall, said his newly created Firearms Rapid Indictment program did not reflect a philosophical difference with Rollins. He noted that courts were closed during the pandemic and Rollins could not seek indictments on any crime for roughly two years.

That created a backlog of serious gun cases, coupled with new arrests. This week, a Tennessee man was found with 11 guns, ammunition clips, and bullets in a backpack at South Station.

“That’s exactly the type of case that needs to be handled seriously and handled quickly. Eleven guns with a bunch of high-capacity clips has much broader implications than one gun recovered off a 14-year-old juvenile,” he said. “Big difference, right?”

Hayden said it’s not clear what the Tennessee man intended to do with the weapons but suspects his plan was to sell them in the area. “Why else would someone need to be carrying 11 guns and a bunch of high-capacity clips?” he said.

Under state law, the maximum sentence for a single illegal gun charge in municipal or district courts is two and a half years. Once shifted to Superior Court by the Firearms Rapid Indictment unit, sentences can increase to five years or more, and judges can impose stricter bail conditions.

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Hayden has assigned two assistant district attorneys to focus on gun cases and opened a special grand jury to hear evidence from law enforcement, a process that has generated 30 gun-related indictments since last month.

“It’s just a way of using the [criminal justice] process and expending the resources to get those cases done and done quickly,” Hayden said. “We want to make sure that we are [operating] on a case-by-case basis. We’re looking at the right ones that need to be indicted and taken seriously.”

Hayden, a Roslindale resident and father of two, is running for a full term in the September Democratic primary. City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo has also announced his candidacy.


John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.