In a rebuke to Suffolk District Attorney Kevin R. Hayden, MBTA Transit Police leadership called Wednesday for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate two of their own officers involved in a coverup, signaling a lack of confidence in Hayden’s handling of the case.
The call for a special prosecutor came shortly after Hayden took the unusual step of publicly announcing a grand jury investigation into an April 2021 traffic dispute in which an off-duty transit officer allegedly pointed his gun at a Hispanic Black man, then summoned other officers to pull the man over so he could issue him a citation. The officer then allegedly called a friend on the force, who came forward to claim he witnessed the whole thing while also off-duty.
Hayden’s decision followed a Globe report on the incident that raised questions about whether his office tried to quash the case. He inherited it upon taking office earlier this year. But this summer, Transit Police leaders lost faith in the process.
“This case is and always has been about ensuring the victim was heard, conducting an investigation free of any biases and to follow the evidence regardless of where they led,” Transit Police Superintendent Richard Sullivan said in a statement. “With everything that has been brought to the surface relative to this matter the Department believes the most prudent course of action is to appoint a Special Prosecutor.”
The district attorney, who has a primary election next month, has faced mounting pressure since the Globe reported Sunday that Hayden’s top deputy, Kevin Mullen, told an attorney for one of the accused transit officers that he had “no appetite to prosecute this case.”
The attorney, Robert Griffin, memorialized the conversation in a sworn affidavit filed in Boston Municipal Court.
Hayden’s office initially told the Globe that Griffin’s affidavit was “not true,” an accusation that, if proven, could get Griffin disbarred. Griffin stood by his filing and provided text messages to corroborate his account. A second attorney, Anthony Riccio, who is representing the second officer in the case, also told the Globe that Mullen told him he did not expect the case to be prosecuted.
The Hayden administration subsequently said Griffin misunderstood Mullen.
On Wednesday, Hayden issued a press release saying that the case had always remained open and that the timing of the grand jury had nothing to do with the Globe report.
“I understand that today’s announcement will be perceived as a reaction to media reports,” Hayden said. “I cannot control perceptions. But I can assure everyone that this action would be happening on the same timeline regardless of what attention this investigation did or didn’t attract.”
The victim in the case, 33-year-old Jason Leonor of Boston, said Wednesday that the only reason the grand jury investigation was announced was because of the publicity surrounding the case. He expressed gratitude the process appeared to be moving forward but had concerns about the district attorney’s office handling the investigation.
“I feel as though Hayden should not be the one to prosecute this case — after all I feel he’s only doing it because the case was investigated by . . . the Globe,” he said. “Had this case never come to public light, I feel I would have never gotten justice.”
Leonor alleged Jacob Green, a white, off-duty Transit Police officer, pointed his gun at him during a traffic dispute. Green summoned other officers to pull the man over, then wrote Leonor a ticket for a marked lanes violation. The incident was captured on a 911 call, which was reviewed by the Globe.
Green filed two police reports claiming he never pointed his gun, then called a friend on the force, who backed up his story in what transit police officials called an effort to mislead investigators. Transit officials brought the case to then-Suffolk district attorney Rachael Rollins, who launched an investigation.
But when Hayden succeeded Rollins after she became US attorney for Massachusetts, prosecutors moved to dump the case, according to transit officials and Green’s attorney. Hayden denied that allegation, and has since provided a series of shifting and contradictory explanations for what happened.
Transit Police officials long had been pushing the district attorney’s office to file charges against Green and the second officer, Kevin Davis. Davis was fired and Green has notified the department he plans to resign in September.
The controversy has roiled the race for Suffolk district attorney, which prosecutes criminal cases in Boston, Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop. Hayden was appointed by Governor Charlie Baker and took office earlier this year. He faces City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo in the Democratic primary on Sept. 6.
On Monday, Arroyo called for Hayden’s resignation, a move echoed by several elected officials who support Arroyo’s bid for district attorney. At a debate Tuesday, Arroyo said that it was “infuriating” how Hayden handled the case. Hayden pushed back and said he had assigned a new prosecutor to the matter before the Globe published its first story. A document reviewed by the Globe says the prosecutor was appointed to the case several hours after reporters questioned Hayden’s office.
Hayden has also come under fire for accepting campaign donations from one of the accused transit officers and his lawyer days after Mullen, his deputy, allegedly said he had no desire to prosecute the matter. Griffin, a defense attorney and longtime Hayden supporter, gave $100, and the officer, Green, gave $125. Following Globe inquiries, Hayden’s campaign said it returned the money.
Hayden’s campaign initially said the district attorney did not ask for the donations, but then Hayden backtracked. Griffin said Hayden had called him personally to solicit the donation. Hayden’s campaign said the district attorney must have forgotten about the call.
Hayden addressed the donations again in Wednesday’s press release.
“I would not jeopardize my integrity, or the integrity of this office, by agreeing in any way to end an investigation because of campaign donations, as has been suggested,” Hayden said. “Nor would I jeopardize my integrity, or the office’s integrity, by not pursuing charges because the suspect is a police officer.”
Andrew Ryan can be reached at email@example.com Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan. Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen.