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Boston City Council meeting turns chaotic in wake of sexual assault allegations against Arroyo

City Council President Ed Flynn climbed over a barrier to help remove people from the chambers after multiple warnings for speaking out.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo on Wednesday made his first public appearance since major backers withdrew their support of his candidacy for Suffolk district attorney at a contentious City Council meeting that erupted in chaos and high emotions.

Arroyo spoke only once during the meeting, on a topic unrelated to the controversy surrounding his candidacy — which stems from the emergence of years-old sexual assault allegations against the 34-year-old councilor. But during the two-hour-plus meeting one colleague applauded the bravery of Arroyo’s 2005 accuser, and another said Arroyo was being crucified without being proven guilty of any crime.

Uproar and outrage defined the proceedings, with councilors interrupting one another and hecklers yelling various interjections from the galleys of the chamber. There were accusations and counter-accusations. The meeting revealed a very raw divide on the council, with some councilors of color directly or indirectly accusing their white colleagues of racism.

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Boston Police and security personal step in between the two groups that were both speaking out causing the meeting to be canceled in City Council Chambers. One man was arrested after a fight broke out in the hallway.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Some members of the public interrupted so often that Council President Ed Flynn ordered the meeting closed to all but councilors, staff, and the press.

Two groups of spectators in the chamber at one point started yelling at each other though the genesis of the disagreement was not clear. One of the groups vocally supported the councilors of color who railed against racism, the other included people who railed against COVID-19 restrictions. The tensions continued in the hallway outside the council chambers after police cleared the room of the public.

One man was placed in handcuffs after a scuffle broke out just outside the council chamber, where groups of people continued to shout at each other. Some were physically restrained from going at one another by security and police.

Shawn Nelson, 43, of Roxbury, was charged with assault and battery, affray, being a disorderly person, and resisting arrest, according to Sergeant Detective John Boyle, chief spokesman for the Boston Police Department.

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A man with the same name was charged with disturbing the peace in June after he brought a bullhorn to a Ronan Park event attended by Mayor Michelle Wu, the Globe reported. Boston police would not confirm it was the same man, but William Gens, the lawyer representing Nelson in the Ronan Park case, confirmed that his client was the man arrested Wednesday. Nelson was also arrested during a March protest against COVID-19 vaccination requirements at the State House and charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct, Gens confirmed.

Part of Wednesday’s drama was sparked by Flynn’s decision earlier this week to strip Arroyo of his council vice presidency and a pair of key committee chairmanships. Flynn made the move not long after rescinding his endorsement of Arroyo in the district attorney’s race after a Boston Globe report revealed Arroyo was twice investigated — though never charged — on allegations of sexual assault when he was a teenager. Arroyo has denied he ever assaulted anyone.

Boston Police and security personnel restrained and eventually arrested a man outside the City Council chambers. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff
Ricardo Arroyo (center) talked with Council President Ed Flynn (right) and City Clerk Alex Geourntas during a recess. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Then on Tuesday night, the Globe reported that one of the accusers — a high school classmate of Arroyo’s who in 2005 told Boston Police that he sexually assaulted her — was so shocked by Arroyo’s response to the allegations becoming public that she felt compelled to speak out.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Councilor Frank Baker said he filed an order for relevant police reports, school safety reports, documents from the Boston Police Sexual Assault Unit, and a sheaf of other reports in order to protect the integrity of the council.

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“The public has put their trust in our words and our actions. Any violation of that trust, certainly allegations of sexual assault, must be investigated. We owe that to the survivors at the very least,” he said. “The truth is in the details. This filing will allow us to obtain the necessary information required in order for us this body to make an informed decision.”

But then Baker attacked Councilor Kendra Lara, an Arroyo supporter, who filed a similar request — for information about Baker’s drug conviction decades ago. He characterized Lara’s order “purely as an act of retaliation and in an effort to deflect and divert attention from the sexual assault allegations made against a city councilor on this body.”

City Councilor Kendra Lara spoke with Ricardo Arroyo. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

After a brief interchange between the two councilors, Flynn called a recess. After it was over, both Baker and Lara dropped their requests for the records.

Baker, however, only did so after making a scorching denunciation of Arroyo.

“I want to just end with this: If a predator continues to roam, the killing field only becomes larger,” Baker said as some in the audience applauded.

After dropping her records request, Lara said she did not file the request to retaliate against Baker but because she believes people of color, such as Arroyo, endure a double standard.

“I filed it to illustrate something that has become very obvious to me in the last few days, that people of color in the city and on this council are not only held to higher standards — they are also disciplined in harsher ways by leadership,” she said.

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Later during the hearing, Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson, who is the first African immigrant to serve on the council, described routinely receiving racist e-mails and voicemails; she played one full of racist and obscene language during the hearing

“What the [expletive] do I have to do in this [expletive] council in order to get respect as a Black woman?” she asked.

Fernandes Anderson likened the council’s response to the Arroyo allegations to a lynching. “You don’t get to crucify people until they are proven guilty,” she said. “They’re allegations for crying out loud, let the court decide.”

Fernandes Anderson said there is a feeling among community leaders of color that white city councilors have “figured out a way to take redistricting and give it to a white councilor.”

“Your votes sometimes are racist,” Fernandes Anderson said, directing the comments to her white colleagues. “You move sometimes in a way that hurts my people.”

In wake of the sex assault allegations, Flynn stripped Arroyo, who is Latino, of two key chairmanships, including the chair of the council’s redistricting committee. Boston City Councilor Liz Breadon, who is white, is now head of that committee.

In a scrum after the meeting, Arroyo said there were no grounds for taking away his chairmanships.

“The fact of the matter is there was a fear of the maps that I was going to draw that would be more inclusive and diverse than some councilors wanted,” he said.

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On the council floor, Lara said she has been on the receiving end of attacks from City Councilor Erin Murphy’s sister.

Regarding that charge, Murphy, during a recess, said she “cannot be responsible for other adults. I can only be responsible for my own behavior.”

Murphy said she thought Flynn made the appropriate decision in stripping Arroyo of his chairmanships and said that she was concerned that amid all the vitriol, the experiences of sexual assault survivors were not being centered.

“Nobody wants to talk about it and then it becomes a race thing, that we’re mistreating a council member, and it’s just not true for me,” she said. “I can’t speak for anyone else.”

Globe correspondent Nick Stoico contributed to this report.


John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe. Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.