Jamaica Plain News easily could've asked our own questions to the five candidates vying to be the next Suffolk County District Attorney. But instead we asked four elected officials to provide questions.
Their questions are based on their own experiences, personal opinions and elected positions: State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz, District 6 City Councilor Matt O'Malley, Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins and At-Large Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu.
Candidates were provided the questions and asked to provide written answers. The five candidates are Evandro Carvalho, Linda Champion, Greg Henning, Shannon McAuliffe and Rachael Rollins.
Today's questions are from State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz and District 6 City Councilor Matt O'Malley. The second part of this series will be published tomorrow.
State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz:
How should the success for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office be measured? How would you measure it for yourself as District Attorney (DA) and your team of assistant district attorney (ADAs)?
Evandro Carvalho: We need to restore public trust with the communities. Currently, only 16% of black voters believe that black and brown men are treated fairly in our courts. As district attorney, I will be transparent, accountable, and fair to the people of Suffolk County. I commit to implementing policies to collect data that will support my office assess success and allow the public to see progress.
As district attorney, I promise to implement new trainings for all prosecutors to ensure they are looking at the entire case to find diversion strategies that keep people out of prison in non-violent crimes. My administration will seek truth and justice and treat everyone fairly.
Linda Champion: Success will be measured by improved community relations and increase on office morale. The office of the DA is in a unique position to rebuild the trust with the communities of color through transparency and data dissemination. We will need to open our doors to the community and allow people to review the work we do. Trust can only be measured over time and the community will have a voice in that area. Internally establishment of a performance review process, policy to mandate each employee provides a minimum of 10 hours of time each week to reinvest back in to the communities we serve, balance the budget to provide equal pay for all prosecutors regardless of race and gender, clear the backlog in the docket by reduction of petty offenses advancing past arraignment, and retaining trained mental health professionals and immigration counsel to work alongside the ADAs to train them on mental health and immigration issues and who will provide guidance on proper disposition.
Greg Henning: In the 10 years I have worked at the DA’s office, I have measured my success and the success of those under my supervision, on integrity, work ethic, legal acumen, interaction with witnesses and victims, and skills as an advocate. It is simply not the case, nor should it ever be, that prosecutors in the Suffolk County DA’s office are evaluated based on conviction rate, despite rhetoric that suggests otherwise. As your next DA, I will continue to evaluate myself and my team of ADAs by those aforementioned standards.
McAuliffe: The ultimate goal is safety and therefore, reducing recidivism should be a metric by which prosecutors are measured because reducing recidivism means less crime, less victims, and stronger communities. For those convicted of murder and heinous violent crimes, reducing recidivism means prison sentences so they are not free to hurt anyone else. For those who commit lesser crimes, we reduce recidivism by addressing the underlying root causes of their crimes which include drug treatment, mental health treatment, trauma-informed services, job skills training, and anything else that will give people the tools and strength they need to turn away from crime and to positively participate in our community.
Rollins: Under my leadership, success will be measured in three ways: 1) increased community involvement and safety; 2) fair and just resolutions; and 3) having an office that adequately reflects the rich diversity of Suffolk County.
Community Involvement & Safety: I will consider myself “successful” when we start to hear that communities within Suffolk County feel safer; when we have real solutions that begin tackling the 1000+ unsolved murders we currently have within Suffolk County; and when we start to see individuals and community groups engaging with the DAs office -- whether that is coming forward with information regarding active and unsolved crimes, sitting on the advisory committees and working groups that I will be creating and filling with subject area experts as well as residents of Suffolk County (e.g., Opioid Epidemic, Unsolved Homicides, Cash Bail System, Mental Heath Crisis, Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System, User Experience), or attending the quarterly reporting and listening tours/ meetings out in the community that I will be implementing.
Fair & Just Resolutions: As DA, I intend to shift the focus and reward system from exclusively wins (pleas and guilty verdicts) and losses, to fair and just resolutions for the community. In our district courts, I intend to collect data on declined cases, rejected charges, cases diverted prior to arraignment, cases diverted after arraignment, charged cases, and dispositions. For matters in superior court, I want to collect data on indicted cases and dispositions. By capturing these data, we will incentivize line ADA’s, particularly in the district courts, to be more creative when seeking resolutions of the matters before them. We can change how we define and measure success within the SCDAO (Suffolk County District Attorney's office) by rewarding and promoting ADAs for creative resolutions for the community, and we will have the data to support those decisions. When ADAs and SCDAO staff see that this new criteria is being implemented, utilized and valued, the culture will start to shift.
Office is a Reflection of Suffolk County: I envision a SCDAO where the approximately 275 employees, the interns, the various consultants and the vendors across every unit and function, adequately reflect the rich and varied populations of Suffolk County. Some of the ways we will value inclusion is by having employees, interns, consultants and vendors that represent the various age ranges and generations, abilities, spoken languages, nationalities, orientations, genders, races, veteran and service statuses, cultures, levels of formerly or currently incarcerated statuses, skills and life experiences of the people of Suffolk County.
State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz:
Many candidates have talked about the need for cultural change in the District Attorney’s office. Can you describe a time you have led cultural change in another institution?
Carvalho: As state representative, I fought for four years to pass sweeping and historic criminal justice reforms. There were skepticism about how far the House of Representatives would reform. My voice was loud and clear on these issues and I believe it played a significant role in pushing the House to go as far as it did.
Champion: I have been working for over 27 years. I have worked as a manager in various companies from Suffolk University to McDonalds. I have also built companies from business plan to brick and mortar.
As a young lawyer, I worked for a small firm where I pushed to accept challenging cases. One family from Brighton had a zoning case that was stopped by the city of Boston through the efforts of individuals in the city that were politically connected. I was instructed to reject the case. However, through spirited discussions we concluded where the family was stopped through no fault of their own and where the law supported their proposed project despite the opposition they were entitled to representation. We advanced that case to the city of Boston (Zoning) Board of Appeal and was granted a variance.
In another case, we had a TSA employee unlawfully terminated, I was advised that taking the case would not result in the restoration of employment. I challenged that and I took the case and his employment was restored. For that firm the culture was dormant and people were too willing to accept the status quo and fatigued against fighting against injustice. For me an injustice against anyone is an injustice against everyone and when it is brought to your attention and you have the ability to help you have to intervene.
More recently I took on the challenge of helping Urban Edge tackle the issues facing low income first-time homebuyers. We have successfully led cultural changes implementing in the city of Boston the first even nonprofit real estate brokerage group. The model we have developed is studied by organizations like NeighborWorks and I have led discussion on how other community development corporations can implement like or similar programs.
Henning: Under my leadership in the Gang Unit, we started “case breakdowns.” We would ask for a sit-down meeting with each defendant and ask about background information. In breaking down each case that came into our office, we moved away from the “one size fits all” method of prosecution and made it our goal to assess individual risk. By looking at a person’s background we are able to identify specific ties that person has to the community. For example, an individual who is a father might tell us that he picks his daughter up from school every day. We are then able to pull the “sign-out” sheets and emergency contact forms at his daughter’s school, and if it turns out he does, in fact, pick his daughter up from school every day then we can pinpoint a specific tie that individual has to the community -- a positive motivation to avoid making the same mistake. When we can identify these types of community ties, we can more accurately assess the level of risk that an individual has to the community and accordingly reduce charges so they do not face mandatory minimum sentencing, or even prevent custody altogether by offering a probationary sentence. This goes against the traditional role of a prosecutor, and did not exist before I began implementation, but this is something I intend to not only continue but expand as district attorney.
McAuliffe: While I was director of the Chelsea site of Roca (the nation’s leading anti-violence program for court-involved, high-risk young men), Roca’s Boston site experienced a devastating murder. Reeling from this tragedy, the Boston site had lost morale; the impassioned work had stopped and fear plagued its culture. Roca’s CEO asked me to leave my post in Chelsea to reinvigorate and turn around the Boston site.
When I arrived, I neither gave into the fear nor dismissed it, but instead gave the staff space to express their fear. I welcomed police and other community partners to air their feelings and criticisms so that I could learn where the Roca model needed to adapt to suit Boston’s complex and layered gang landscape.
I then re-phrased the perceived roadblocks to empower the team and the
community. “Boston is different” became “Boston is unique.” I acknowledged the need and experimented with specific adaptations to the model for it to work in Boston. This “uniqueness” required tremendous learning of the seemingly
unknowable gang landscape through building trust with police, hiring a gang expert, and cataloging over 200 gangs as well as their ever-changing affiliations and rivals.
I set a value of ”safety” and showed the team we could improve safety through
every act, large and small. Everyone was held to the highest standards of
professionalism from uniform, data entry, timeliness and cleanliness of our vehicles to tell the young men that we were on point. The external culture had to be built and seen before it could become the internal culture of the site.
Lastly, I taught the team the data-driven intervention model that required strict fidelity to its every tenet. Hope, purpose, and passion returned to the Boston site. After the learning period, anyone who did not meet the standards was held accountable. I drove the hard work, and welcomed every difficult conversation with partners, participants, and staff. The team is now arguably the strongest in all of Roca, working with complete commitment to the adapted model, performing to the highest of standards and operating with intention, dedication, and relentlessness.
Rollins: As the General Counsel of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and the MBTA, I led two separate and completely distinct organizations -- one a state agency and the other an independent state authority -- into a newly proposed shared services model. We went from having two separate legal departments, two separate labor departments, two separate audit departments to having one person managing and leading each of those departments. Although these changes streamlined services and significantly cut costs, the day-to-day culture shift was very hard for employees that had never operated in this way. Of the 150+ employees I was responsible for supervising through this change, many were highly skilled and highly functioning attorneys. Through transparency, implementing weekly division meetings and bi-weekly management meetings, remaining positive and optimistic, acknowledging progress, aligning this new culture with accountability, defining non-negotiables, and being fully committed to the hard work of culture shifting (and doing all this while also being the General Counsel of a combined 10,000 employees, and personally responsible for thousands of MBTA cases per year), we prospered and successfully shifted to a fully functioning shared service model.
District 6 Boston City Councilor Matt O’Malley:
Please describe what work you have done to divert people from the criminal justice system.
Carvalho: I believe diversion programs are crucial when handling non-violent, low level drug offenses. As state representative, I have been fighting for the past four years for more funding for youth jobs and diversion programs. For years, I have supported organizations like Teen Empowerment that work closely with youth throughout Boston to keep kids out of trouble and advocate for more diversion programs.
Champion: Personally, and professionally, I have worked for organizations in the area of development to raise money for at-risk children to attend summer programs at Thompson Island. I spent two years working with the Dimock Center together with other community leaders to raise $14 million dollars for a substance abuse treatment center. I worked for three years to build youth programs in Chinatown in collaboration with Chung Changing Lives and raised over $75,000 each year to ensure free summer programs were available for our teens. As an assistant district attorney I worked to identify with my supervisor, Jonathan Tynes, those cases that could be placed on a probationary period prior to arraignment to ensure that those youthful offenders could complete school and be able to advance their college education without a CORI.
Henning: As a prosecutor, teacher, and mentor to young community members, I have dedicated my entire life to diverting people from the criminal justice system whenever possible. I have seen the impact that a positive role model can have on the lives of young people and have tried to fill that role for kids I have met at College Bound Dorchester, Boston Prep, and in the courtroom as well.
Real diversion is not pushing people out the back door of a courtroom when no one is looking, it’s understanding why people commit the crimes they do and then helping them to prevent committing those crimes again. Once kids enter our courts, we need to work hard to make sure that they do not come back as adults. We need to invest in diversionary programs for juveniles that focus on treating the underlying causes and conditions that drove the young person to offend in the first place. I want to see parents, defense lawyers, prosecutors, mental health care providers, faith communities, employers, and recovery programs work to collectively address whatever issues are most pressing for an individual.
McAuliffe: As a defense attorney for 12 years in Suffolk County courts, my job consisted of connecting defendants (not held on bail) to programs, treatment, therapy, school and other services that would offer a smarter and more strategic result (healthier people who commit less crime) than jail. And as director at Roca, my work interrupted the cycle of incarceration and poverty by helping high-risk young men change their lives. I worked relentlessly with judges, probation, defense attorneys and prosecutors to see defendants, not as thing to punish, but as traumatized, challenged people in need of support they rarely received. And participants at Roca were often victims of violent offenses and through relentless outreach and teaching of Cognitive Behavioral Technique, we taught men how to process their pain and shame instead of retaliate which ultimately, keeps people from committing crimes.
Rollins: Young people: Over the last 10+ years, I have volunteered with Discovering Justice, an amazing program that among other things brings urban students into the Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston and teaches them about the Bill of Rights through mock trials. Often times, this experience marks the first positive encounter some of these youth and their families have ever had with the criminal justice system. I routinely acted as a judge presiding over these mock trials. I was frequently the first lawyer these students had ever met that looked like them and/or that was a woman. As one of the very few prosecutors of color in the United States Attorney’s Office (USAO), which is located within the Moakley Courthouse, I was often called upon to speak to these students. It was absolutely one of the highlights of my four years at the USAO.
During this same 10+ year time period, I have spoken to hundreds of students, often at urban elementary, middle and high schools about the importance of staying in school, working hard and making good choices, irrespective of the choices people around you may be making. I have shared with them my story of having incarcerated siblings, family members that have struggled with addiction, and nieces within the DCF (Massachusetts Department of Children & Families) system. Sharing this personal information has resulted in many of those students opening up and engaging in discussion about their future and considering career opportunities they never imaged were possible for them.
Re-entering individuals: As a former federal prosecutor at the USAO, I worked with then Magistrate Judges Sorokin and Hillman and assisted with the CARE (Court Assisted Recovery Program) and RESTART (Reentry: Empowering Successful Todays and Responsible Tomorrows) programs. These programs focus on treatment and sanctioned alternatives to effectively address offender behavior and rehabilitation, and reducing recidivism for high risk offenders and promoting successful community reintegration, respectively. As the president of the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association, I co-sponsored a Job Interviewing Skills Workshop with the Federal Bar Association for the CARE and RESTART members and recruited a diverse groups of practicing lawyers and business people to review resumes and conduct mock interviews inside of the Moakley Courthouse. With mentors and oversight, many of these individuals successfully completed the CARE and RESTART programs and have not re-entered the criminal justice system.
District 6 Boston City Councilor Matt O’Malley:
What will you do to combat unsolved shootings in Boston?
Carvalho: For every homicide case there are more than 20 nonfatal unsolved shootings. I will work with the survivors of the shootings to seek justice. As former District Attorney Ralph Martin did, I will reinstitute a cold case unit that will review and focus on unsolved shootings. I will work closely with our police departments to make sure we’re devoting enough resources to these programs.
Many cases are unsolved because witnesses don’t feel comfortable coming forward. We will also hire more diverse witness protection advocates to work with the witnesses and communities and expand the programs to contact more people within the community to gain more information.
Champion: This discussion has been circulating for many years, Councilor O'Malley has been a city councilor for many years and still the number of unsolved murders continues to rise, what have they done? The city of Boston needs to increase the number on their cold case squad from 4 to 10 over the next fiscal year, from 10 to 20 over the following fiscal year; and continue to staff the cold case squad until the case load is reduced to a manageable number that can be handled by four people. I have no issues allocating those detectives assigned to the office of the district attorney to provide additional help and services to the cold case squad so we can bring peace and closure for the families waiting for answers.
Henning: As chief of the Gang Unit, I recently created an unsolved shooting initiative that was aimed at methodically addressing this crisis in Suffolk County. With over 700 incidents of firearms being discharged in just the city of Boston in 2017, the district attorney’s office must dedicate more resources to identify and focus on those offenders who are repeatedly bringing violence to our cities. A fully staffed and trained unit working in coordination with community organizations and law enforcement will help remove shooters from our streets when they threaten the safety of all residents. This must be one of the next district attorney’s very top priorities.
McAuliffe: First, speak to police, prosecutors and victim families related to solved shootings regarding what went right and also those related to unsolved shootings to understand what went wrong to bridge that gap. Second, treat all victims like they matter. I recently spoke to a Roxbury mother and father who told me no police or prosecutor contacted them for 49 hours after their son had been brutally gunned down in the street in broad daylight. If this would not happen in Beacon Hill, it cannot happen in Roxbury. Third, by valuing, seeing, hearing and servicing all victims, we will start to build the trust needed for victims and witnesses to come forward to report crimes. Solving unsolved crime requires the creation of trust – it is not a quick fix but I am committed to taking the small steps over time for big ultimate change.
Rollins: I am a firm believer that as we work to create more transparency and accountability within the DA's office, as we commit to having better trainings for every SCDAO employee, as we start intentionally making sure that the office adequately reflects the rich diversity of all of Suffolk County (various age ranges and generations, abilities, spoken languages, nationalities, orientations, genders, races, veteran and service statuses, cultures, levels of formerly or currently incarcerated statuses, skills and life experiences), the community will begin to take notice. As we begin collecting and releasing data, being transparent about potential missteps or actual scandals (read, drug labs) and stop fighting losing battles (see again, drug lab scandals and related dismissals), the community will start taking notice. As the community starts to see the SCDAO changing and being more transparent, accessible, and accountable, they will begin to become more involved with the office and the important work we are doing to keep the community safe. Only then, when communities feel invested in and protected by the system, instead of forgotten and abandoned or conversely, over-policed and over-prosecuted by the system, will people begin to come forward with information that could help solve some of these crimes.
On the campaign trail, I have met too many mothers of murdered young men who have never seen justice for their loved one. Adding insult to injury, I have been told far too many times that homicide detectives and DAs have only ever spoken to them immediately after the homicide and never once since the fateful night or day. Some of these homicides happened over 10 years ago. That these families have never been called or spoken to once in that time frame is unconscionable. As your next Suffolk County DA, I promise that every year on the anniversary of any unsolved homicide, the responsible ADA will call the next of kin to say, “We have not forgotten. We are still working on solving this case. We again offer our condolences and remain sorry for you unthinkable loss.” That is absolute least that we can do as we continue to work on solving the matter.