Rachael Rollins, Charlie Baker turn down the heat on their war of words
Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins and Governor Charlie Baker sought to squelch a war of words over Rollins’s criminal justice policy Saturday, after a Baker aide criticized her and she responded by criticizing how an allegation against Baker’s son was handled.
But as Baker and Rollins publicly ended their clash, several local advocacy groups and political leaders, including US Representative Ayanna Pressley, praised Rollins for her efforts to help address longstanding inequities in the criminal justice system.
Rollins, who was elected last fall as the first woman of color to serve as Suffolk County’s district attorney, issued a memo last week spelling out reforms intended to reduce racial and socioeconomic disparities in the criminal justice system.
That included a so-called do-not-prosecute list for crimes such as trespassing, shoplifting, and drug possession.
But Rollins’s memo was criticized by Thomas A. Turco III, the state’s public safety and security secretary, who said Rollins’s policies could undermine efforts to combat the opioid crisis and put some crime victims at risk.
During a press conference Friday, Rollins said her memo included policies she was elected on, and suggested she has dealt with misogyny since taking office earlier this year.
Rollins also criticized the handling of a case involving Baker’s son, Andrew “A.J.” Baker, who was accused in June of last year of groping a woman during a flight to Boston.
The younger Baker was escorted off the plane by State Police but was not arrested. Baker said at the time the state US attorney’s office would investigate.
Rollins told reporters Friday that “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.”
A Baker spokeswoman said in an e-mail Friday 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.”
On Saturday, Baker and Rollins each said in separate interviews that the governor called the district attorney earlier in the day.
“We basically just talked about public safety and working together, and I think it was a very helpful and constructive conversation,” Baker told reporters Saturday during a basketball tournament at the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury.
“I think we’re going to try and hit the reset button and start again on Monday.”
Rollins praised Baker in an interview with Globe columnist Adrian Walker on Saturday.
“I have deep respect for him for being the leader he is, and calling me, and I have nothing further to say about the matter,” Rollins said.
“We had a incredibly productive conversation and now it’s time to get to work.”
Speaking to reporters, Baker pointed to the state’s criminal justice reform legislation — which he signed into law last year — as an effort to address “some of the historic issues that people have had with the way the criminal justice system works.”
Those reforms were intended to roll back criminal justice efforts that critics have blasted as having disproportionately affected people of color and people who are poor.
Asked to respond to Rollins’s criticism of the handling of the sexual assault allegation against Baker’s son, the governor said the case was handed to the US attorney’s office.
“I said when the whole thing started that it was a serious allegation and it needed to be independently investigated,” the governor said. “And I expect that the US attorney, which was the appropriate authority to do that investigation, was the right place for that to get done, and I believe they did what they were supposed to do.”
On Saturday, five area advocacy organizations, including the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a joint statement that they sent a letter to Baker criticizing how Turco “mischaracterizes” the criminal justice reforms announced by Rollins a day earlier.
“Secretary Turco’s letter wrongly suggests that DA Rollins is putting the people of Suffolk County at risk with her reform efforts. Indeed, the voters overwhelmingly elected DA Rollins to office because of her promise to revise current ineffective practices that have failed to address public health and public safety concerns,” the letter said.
On social media, local leaders, including Pressley, backed Rollins and praised her criminal justice efforts.
“@DARollins was elected with a mandate to pursue bold, innovative ideas to fix our broken CJ system - I stand in solidarity w/ her in the effort to decriminalize poverty, mental illness, & substance use,” Pressley tweeted Friday.
Other local officials who spoke out to praise Rollins on Twitter included state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, state Representatives Russell E. Holmes and Liz Miranda, and Boston City Councilors Andrea J. Campbell and Kim Janey.
On Friday night, Rollins tweeted her appreciation.
“Thank you everyone for the outpouring of support today,” she wrote.
“I promise to keep fighting for a criminal justice system that is fair, just, and works for EVERYONE.”