Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins acknowledged on Friday that she used inaccurate information to publicly criticize a Globe story about her office’s handling of a brutal assault case.
Rollins accused the Globe of using the case — in which a woman walking her dog in the Charlestown Navy Yard was attacked and suffered a fractured skull — to try to make the new district attorney appear lenient toward violent criminals.
Rollins said in media appearances that her office had been just as tough on the defendant as her predecessor, Daniel Conley. In fact, she said, her office had secured greater accountability, including $5,000 in restitution for the victim.
But, in fact, Conley’s office sought stiffer penalties than Rollins’s office. Conley’s prosecutors convinced the defendant, Rusbel Ruiz-Santana, to plead guilty last September to two felonies and recommended he be jailed for six months. Two months later, Ruiz-Santana withdrew his guilty pleas even when Boston Municipal Court Judge Tracy-Lee Lyons offered to reduce the penalty to a one-year suspended sentence.
When Rollins became district attorney in 2019, her prosecutors made a deal that allowed the defendant to avoid jail time as long as he got mental health counseling and met other conditions.
“I have previously stated that the plea offered under my administration was the same requested by a past administration. That was not accurate,” Rollins said in a statement late on Friday.
Rollins said the case “reflects the complex nature of each and every one of the approximately 35,000 cases my office handles annually.” She has said the assault was “egregious,” but the plea agreement was appropriate because Ruiz-Santana had a mental health disorder and no prior criminal record.
She said that the final outcome of the case, under which Ruiz-Santana pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault, included protections for the public.
However, court records show that key conditions placed on Ruiz-Santana at a plea hearing in April — including the requirement for $5,000 restitution and GPS monitoring — were imposed by the judge, Boston Municipal Court Judge Eleanor Sinnott, and not requested by the assistant district attorney.
Before Rollins acknowledged that she relied on inaccurate information about the case, former district attorney Conley also made clear that his office did not offer leniency to the defendant.
“Any suggestion by anyone in the current administration that this defendant was offered the same disposition as my office offered is inaccurate and incorrect and I would hope on further reflection they would correct the record,” he told the Globe on Thursday, stressing that he was not trying to second guess his successor.
The Globe reported earlier this month that Rollins is shaking up the district attorney’s office, vowing to dismiss low-level nonviolent offenses that clog up the courts and do little to make the city safer. She said her office plans to help stop a “freight train moving toward mass incarceration of poor people and black and brown people.”
The Globe review of her first few months in office showed that she is making good on that promise, but also found that some of the cases that were being dismissed or had charges reduced weren’t low level at all, including the 2017 assault by Ruiz-Santana.
Ruiz-Santana, who thought the victim was recording him smoking marijuana, knocked her to the ground and allegedly flung her dog into the air.
She hit the pavement hard, suffering devastating injuries, from which she is still recovering today.
Ruiz-Santana was charged with assault and battery causing serious bodily injury and animal cruelty — both felonies. He admitted sufficient facts last September, but just as he was about to be sentenced in November, he withdrew his plea.
The prosecutor, who worked for Conley, asked for an 18-month sentence, with six months to serve, while the defense lawyer asked that the case be continued without a finding for three years. The judge offered a compromise — a one-year suspended sentence, with two years’ probation. The defendant decided to withdraw his plea and go to trial instead.
The case was scheduled for trial with a new prosecutor, who worked for Rollins, in April. The night before the trial was to begin, the assistant district attorney informed the victim that Ruiz-Santana would plead guilty to a lesser charge — misdemeanor assault and battery — and the animal cruelty charge would be dropped altogether.
The victim implored the prosecutor not to cut the deal, calling it “flagrant, appalling and disgusting,” in an e-mail.
After the Globe story about the case was published, Rollins admonished the Globe for inaccurate reporting.
“Words matter, right?” said Rollins in a July 16 interview on WGBH’s Boston Public Radio with Jim Braude and Margery Eagan, referring to the Globe story. “Here’s my point — don’t be sloppy and make it fall on my lap. If you’re going to do your job, make sure you’re right.”
Andrea Estes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Shelley Murphy of the Globe staff contributed to this report.