The Democratic primary for Suffolk County district attorney has been mired in so much controversy and mudslinging that the choice between two deeply problematic candidates — Kevin Hayden, the incumbent, and his challenger, Ricardo Arroyo — was shaping up into a hold your nose and pick the lesser of two evils sort of dilemma for voters.
On Tuesday, the Globe’s Andrea Estes and Evan Allen provided powerful evidence that Arroyo has lied about allegations from 2005 that he sexually assaulted a high school classmate. In droves, politicians who had endorsed Arroyo quickly withdrew their support on Wednesday. Indeed, there’s no longer any dilemma: Arroyo shouldn’t be district attorney.
Arroyo, a 34-year-old city councilor from Hyde Park and the scion of a well-known political family, asserts that he did not assault anyone and did not know until recently of a police investigation into the allegation, despite a police report indicating that he, his lawyer, and his mother spoke to detectives at the time.
But this week, the woman told the Globe that Arroyo repeatedly pressured her to perform oral sex during their junior year and then sent her threatening emails. She nevertheless went to the police — and the very next day Arroyo disappeared from school, she said. She says she dropped the complaint, thinking he was out of her life.
Arroyo insists that he dropped out of school to help his mother through a difficult patch and that he never sent the emails, which are anonymous. He asserts that the investigation determined the allegations were unfounded and has demanded that the police release documents that he claims would confirm his story.
Arroyo was also the subject of a separate allegation in 2007 when a woman reported that he may have raped her at a party. No charges were ever filed; Arroyo says the assault never occurred; and a lawyer for the woman now says Arroyo did not rape her. Arroyo claims he did not know about that accusation until this month, either.
Arroyo has every right to pursue documents related to the cases and assert his innocence. (He provided a police document to the editorial board that confirms the word “unfounded” is in his case files, though the context in which the word appears remains unknown.) But now the mounting evidence that he has misled voters is too troubling to ignore on the eve of this important primary. If he were to win Tuesday’s primary, he would almost surely enter office — there is no Republican in the race — with a dark cloud over his head and doubts about his integrity on every front. And survivors of sexual violence must have total confidence in the district attorney’s office, something that would be difficult if not impossible under Arroyo.
For that reason, the Globe editorial page calls on him to step aside in this race. If he does not, we strongly urge voters to support the incumbent, Kevin Hayden.
Hayden comes to the election with his own problems. Appointed to the office earlier this year by Governor Charlie Baker after Hayden’s predecessor, Rachael Rollins, was named US attorney for Massachusetts, he has shown a troubling hesitation to hold police accountable for alleged abuses, an important part of the job of the top prosecutor in Boston, Revere, Winthrop, and Chelsea.
Earlier this month, a Globe report found that under Hayden’s watch this year, an investigation into an off-duty MBTA cop who allegedly pulled his firearm on a motorist after a traffic incident then falsified police reports to cover it up, had stalled for no clear reason. It was only after the Globe report came out in August that Hayden announced he would open a grand jury investigation into the case.
Hayden also personally solicited a campaign donation from the accused officer’s lawyer, the lawyer told the Globe. Though the amount, $100, is small, the solicitation itself — which Hayden says he doesn’t recall but acknowledges might have happened — is an unsettling breach of ethics.
Nevertheless, there is no equivalence between Hayden’s missteps and Arroyo’s, and this page believes that the incumbent should continue serving as Suffolk County district attorney. If elected, he will need to demonstrate stronger leadership on holding police accountable and articulate a clearer vision for a just and balanced approach to prosecuting low-level offenses.
On the first issue, Hayden should start by rebuilding the team that prosecutes police cases. By spring, the unit, which was responsible for the Transit Police officer case, had lost its entire three-lawyer staff. Though Hayden told the Globe editorial board that he considers prosecuting abusive police a key part of his duties, his office did not post a single job listing for the unit until August, after the Globe’s report about the transit officer was published.
“We are never going to hesitate to hold police officers accountable when they commit crimes,” Hayden said in an interview with the Globe editorial board. “It’s absolutely imperative that our public have trust and faith and confidence in what we do. … We handle every investigation seriously, every officer-involved shooting case seriously.”
On the second issue of how to prosecute low-level crimes like shoplifting, the editorial board has lauded the approach of Rachael Rollins, who sought to divert accused offenders into substance use treatment and other such programs rather than prosecute them. Although Suffolk County was not a lock-’em-up jurisdiction under previous DAs either, Rollins codified a welcome alternative to the kind of aggressive prosecution that has filled jails and prisons nationwide with young Black and Latino men.
Hayden contends that he broadly supports that strategy but wants to balance it with a concern for the small business owners and lower-income tenants who are frequently the victims of petty crime. Along those lines, he has said he would handle a no-prosecution list created by Rollins on a “case-by-case” basis.
On its face, that seems reasonable — and not a major departure from Rollins, who also stressed that the list of crimes not to prosecute wasn’t absolute. But this page will be watching closely to see that his approach does not lead to the kind of excessive prosecution and implicit racial bias that have tainted much of the country’s approach to criminal justice for decades.
For all our reservations, it should be clear that the editorial board also sees clear positives in the current district attorney’s record. In May, for example, his office announced that it would be expanding a diversion program that would allow people arrested for drug- and mental health-related offenses near Mass. and Cass to avoid prosecution by opting into treatment instead. That’s a promising step, and more initiatives like that would be welcome.
And like his opponent, Hayden has also served as a criminal defense attorney. For five years, he represented clients who could not afford counsel, including those in juvenile court — a line on his resume that shows he understands the devastating consequences that over-criminalizing low-level offenses can have on poor communities.
Add to that his over a decade of experience as an assistant district attorney before he was appointed to run the office, and there is good reason to believe that the incumbent understands the strengths and shortcomings of his 300-plus person department.
We now hope that he will get the chance to demonstrate his ability to run that office with an eye toward protecting the public, avoiding unjust prosecutions and policing the police. The electorate will be watching. And so will we.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.