The two candidates for Suffolk district attorney, Ricardo Arroyo and Kevin Hayden, are locking horns over Hayden’s management stint at the state’s Sex Offender Registry Board, with Arroyo lambasting the current DA for his time at the agency, during which an audit concluded there were problems with the oversight of hundreds of sex offenders.
The 2017 review, conducted by state Auditor Suzanne M. Bump, found that the board did not have current addresses for 1,769 offenders who were in violation of reporting requirements and that the agency failed to properly categorize 936 convicted sex offenders in their system.
Hayden previously worked as the board’s chairman for six-and-a-half years, starting in June 2015. Before that, he served as the board’s interim executive director for about nine months and its general counsel for a little less than a year. The audit in question examined the period between July 1, 2015, and June 30, 2016.
Arroyo, a Boston city councilor, last week criticized Hayden to the Globe over the audit’s findings, saying that it “makes clear that the Sex Offender Registry did not fulfill its legal obligations to keep the public safe under Kevin Hayden’s management.”
“His refusal to be personally accountable for the systemic failures and mismanagement that occurred under his watch, and that are detailed in the audit, is unacceptable for someone seeking to be the next District Attorney for Suffolk County,” Arroyo said in a statement. However, the matter was not broached during a Tuesday night candidates’ forum.
The audit, Bump said in a recent phone interview, shows that “the agency was really failing in one of its essential responsibilities and that was to track the whereabouts of registered sex offenders who failed to voluntarily provide address information.” Bump declined to say whether the 2017 audit’s findings should disqualify Hayden from the DA’s post. She did say it was fair for him to be questioned about the audit’s findings.
Compounding the problem, Bump said, was that the board had already been directed, under the law, to work with other state agencies such as the Department of Revenue, the Registry of Motor Vehicles, and the Department of Transitional Assistance, to cull their available data to keep their residents list current. She found SORB was “making no effort in that regard.”
“It clearly was a failure of the organization to act on one of its most basic responsibilities,” Bump said.
SORB is the state’s only agency responsible for the classification of each registered sex offender; each offender is given one of four classification levels, depending on their perceived level of risk to the public. Police departments are notified of all offenders living, working, or studying in their jurisdictions.
Hayden’s campaign defended him against the SORB criticism.
SORB lacked the authority and resources to track down the individuals who failed to register as sex offenders and depended on law enforcement to accomplish this task, Hayden’s campaign said. That sentiment echoed a previous defense of the agency after the audit. In fact, it was a point that was driven home by the state’s then-public safety secretary, Daniel Bennett, who stressed, in the aftermath of the 2017 audit, that not a single investigator was assigned to SORB, which fell under his purview.
In the audit, Bump found that SORB simply did not have adequate internal policies or procedures in place to ensure that all sex offenders are classified in a timely manner, which allowed some offenders with a high risk of offending again to remain unclassified. Among the 900-plus offenders who were unclassified included people who were convicted of rape, rape of a child with force, and indecent assault and battery on a child younger than 14, among other sex crimes.
Governor Charlie Baker appointed Hayden in January to finish Rachael Rollins’s DA term. Rollins left that office to become the US attorney for Massachusetts. Hayden is running for a full term, in a political contest that has largely flown under the radar.
What little public jousting there has been in the DA’s race has focused on experience. Last month, Hayden’s campaign labeled Arroyo a “novice attorney with zero public safety experience.” That barb came after Boston Mayor Michelle Wu endorsed Arroyo, a former public defender who is known as a progressive and a police reform stalwart.
In response to Arroyo’s comments, the Hayden campaign doubled down on casting Arroyo as lacking management experience, adding that the councilor was resorting to “political cheap shots.”
“In fact, Kevin Hayden’s management was not mentioned in the auditor’s report and the reforms he put in place at SORB were precisely what top government officials testified was necessary to move the agency forward,” a Hayden campaign spokesman said in a statement.
The campaign said Hayden worked to bring the SORB list up to date and launched a grant-funded program to help enable law enforcement to do more to both track down those individuals who were missing from the list and work to stop these issues from happening in the future.
In 2017, Bennett, then the state’s public safety secretary, said more than 800 of the unclassified sex offenders could not be legally classified because they could not be located. About 50 more offenders in the unclassified cohort were thought to be dead, according to state authorities, and about 100 were thought to be deported.
And in response to the audit, SORB said the laws and regulations that govern its classification process prevented the agency from classifying certain individuals. Specifically, SORB must give notice to an offender before it proceeds with the classification process and those who are in violation often cannot be reached, which can throw a wrench in the classification process. The audit team, the agency asserted, “has not fully recognized the complexity of our due process requirement to provide notice to the offender.”
Bump, in the 2017 audit, did not buy such explanations, stating that “SORB has not done all it could to address these violations.” She also argued that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court had ruled that SORB can proceed with classification after making efforts “reasonably calculated to provide actual notice,” including sending notice to the listed address on the offender’s SORB registration form.
“SORB therefore possesses the authority and the means to notify these offenders of classification proceedings,” the audit read.
The Hayden campaign also asserted that Hayden bolstered partnerships between SORB and other agencies to better track down offenders’ addresses.
During his time at SORB, Hayden supported proposals that included a requirement for Level 1 sex offenders to register their address every year in person, rather than by mail, and allowing the public to access information on such offenders in certain situations, his campaign said. He also urged the establishment of a pilot program that would create a SORB officer post in police departments that would be charged with communicating with the state agency and tracking down offenders who do not register, according to the campaign.
“All of which would have put far greater resources at SORB’s disposal,” the Hayden spokesman said.