The clash between Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins and Governor Charlie Baker’s administration over criminal justice policy heated up on Friday, with the DA taking shots at the governor’s family and his public safety secretary, while also suggesting that she has had to deal with misogyny since assuming office.
“As your new DA, and the first woman to ever have this job, it has been very apparent to me that the men that were in this position before me were treated with quite a bit more respect,” she said at a Friday afternoon press conference. “But I didn’t get into this job to make friends, I got into this job to make change.”
Rollins’s comments came in the wake of concerns expressed by the administration about a recent policy memo that her office says details her approach to minimizing the impact of the criminal justice system and reducing racial and socioeconomic disparities.
The memo has drawn criticism from some corners, including Thomas A. Turco III, Massachusetts’ public safety and security secretary, who in a Thursday letter said he was troubled that Rollins’s policies could undermine efforts to curb the ongoing opioid crisis and put some crime victims at risk.
The memo includes a so-called do-not-prosecute list, which features 15 crimes, including trespassing, shoplifting, and drug possession.
At Friday’s press conference, Rollins doubled down on the memo, saying that it includes policies she was elected on and that it codifies past practices of her predecessors.
“They didn’t write it down because it was working really well for certain communities and not for other communities,” she said.
She also brought up Baker’s family and appeared to allude to Andrew “A.J.” Baker’s run-in with the law last year. A woman accused the governor’s son of groping her on a June 20 flight from Washington, D.C., to Boston.
State Police escorted Baker from the plane at Logan Airport. He was not arrested. The governor said in June that the US attorney’s office was reviewing the allegations. He also said that state law enforcement would have no role in the investigation.
As of last fall, no charges were filed and the US attorney’s office for Massachusetts said at that time that in any investigation, it would not provide a public update if it chose not to pursue charges. That office reiterated that stance Friday, with a spokeswoman saying the office does not confirm nor deny the existence of investigations.
On Friday, Rollins said, “Candidly, you know, not everyone gets the benefit of the Baker family when they have interacted with the criminal justice system, they don’t get to not get arrested, have the State Police that reports to them handle the investigation, etcetera.”
She continued, “Most moms that are living in Suffolk County don’t have a one-thousand-dollar lawyer to handle a charge when it’s brought against their son or daughter or loved one.”
Later, when she was pressed on what she meant by those comments, Rollins said, “I’m simply saying that there are certain people that benefit with the system the way that it is right now, and they are overwhelmingly wealthy and they are overwhelmingly not getting caught up in the system. It is really important that you guys understand that there are significant racial disparities in our criminal justice system.”
Baker spokesman Lizzy Guyton said in a Friday e-mail that the administration “does not engage in personal attacks, and raised specific and legitimate public safety concerns that could affect the residents of the Commonwealth.”
“We hope for an ongoing, productive dialogue on the important issues raised by Secretary Turco,” said Guyton.
Rollins was elected last fall on a criminal justice reform platform that has thrilled criminal justice reform activists but unnerved some law enforcement officials. She assumed office in January, at a ceremony Baker attended.
In his letter to Rollins, Turco took aim at Rollins’s proposals not to prosecute certain drug possession crimes and relatively minor crimes, and her approach to pretrial release conditions, such as GPS monitoring and stay-away orders.
Friday, Rollins fired back at Turco, suggesting he should concentrate on “the things he’s responsible for” such as the multiple scandals that have rocked State Police or the “terrible water conditions at MCI Norfolk.”
“If you’re serious about public safety, maybe you should turn your attention to some of those things and allow me to do the job that I’m doing,” she said.
In her memo, Rollins details a host of policies for her office. For instance, Rollins said her office would reassess cash bail in some ongoing cases, review pending Suffolk County appellate cases, and employ plea negotiations that emphasize diversion, not incarceration, among other ideas.
Rollins said Friday that the memo gives guidance “as to what I would like the culture of this office to be.” She said she wants to reduce mass incarceration and plans to put an emphasis on solving shootings and homicides in the district.
Danny McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.