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 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.
The five candidates are Evandro Carvalho, Linda Champion, Greg Henning, Shannon McAuliffe and Rachael Rollins.
Today's questions are from Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins and At-Large Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu. Click here to see the first part of this series with questions from State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz and District 6 City Councilor Matt O'Malley.
Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins
How many cases have you tried in court, and were you serving as a prosecutor or defense attorney?
Evandro Carvalho: I am an experienced attorney who has a wide variety of experiences in both criminal law and civil law. I have tried approximately 25 jury trials as a prosecutor. I probably tried just as many cases before a judge only (bench trial) and handled numerous amounts of motions and court proceedings both as a former prosecutor and as a defense attorney.
Linda Champion: I've never kept track of the trials or the cases. I have been a lawyer a long time. I have never counted the number of civil, housing, land and criminal cases. I remember those cases I have tried where something stood out to me. I have worked on behalf of plaintiffs. I have worked as an assistant district attorney. I have worked for the commonwealth of Massachusetts as an assistant general counsel. I have tried a death case while at the Department of Industrial Accidents. I have tried ADBW (assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon), DUI (driving under the influence), AB on PO (assault and battery on a police officer), Larceny by Check, and other offenses while an assistant district attorney. I have done bench trials before the Housing and Land Courts. I only handled one case as a defense attorney. I represented at arraignment a man from my church.
Greg Henning: Although we do not keep record of the exact number of cases we have tried individually at the DA’s office, in my years as an assistant district attorney I have conducted dozens of trials. I have prosecuted cases in the Boston Municipal Court, the Major Felony Bureau, the Senior Trial Unit, Gun Prosecution Task Force, and the Gang Unit. These trials involved the most serious crimes we face in the county, including shootings, drug trafficking, and domestic violence.
Shannon McAuliffe: I have tried over 20 cases as both a federal defender for two years in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California and in Suffolk County courts as a public defender for 12 years. In Suffolk County, I was assigned the more serious cases in Superior Court. I believed trial was a last resort and therefore, explored and offered an array of creative, strategic solutions to resolve the case without jail and before trial.
Rachael Rollins: I have tried eight cases in court, serving as defense counsel in two and on behalf of the prosecution in six.
Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins
In the facilities that I manage and in most correctional institutions across the country, many people who are incarcerated suffer from high-levels of addiction and mental illness. In what ways can a DA positively impact things like addiction recovery, mental illness and homelessness through the cases that they are prosecuting?
Carvalho: Expanding mental health and drug courts will be a top priority for my administration. We must ensure that people with mental health issues and addiction receive adequate treatment. As State Representative, I have been working to ensure there is money secured in the budget to expand these courts so people can receive treatment. I will also look to implement a young adult (18-24) office to deal with the specific needs of emerging adults. Data has shown that our brains do not fully develop until the age of 25 and this group also has the highest recidivism rates. I am aware of a similar session in San Francisco being implemented that may serve as a model.
Champion: You have to divert cases involving mental health issues, homelessness and addiction recovery. I have stated since my campaign began we are quick to
prosecute people but who is prosecuting those conditions that exist in our
community that cause people to commit a crime. Poverty, homelessness, lack of
quality and affordable health care, these are offenses that are criminal. Some drug
addiction begins with pain management and people not able to address the pain
often due to an auto accident or a workplace injury. We have to have compassion
for individuals who are struggling in these areas and while the process of change for them will be challenging we have to continue to encourage a road to recovery.
Henning: Right now, our mental health court at the Central Division Boston Municipal Court (BMC) is making strides in reducing recidivism for people with serious mental health issues, through developing a health plan and offering access to health care providers. I want to continue to build upon this effort by creating more of these sessions in more courts, or alternatively, expanding the BMC session to reach more people in other neighborhoods of Boston. We need the trial court to employ more court clinicians so that people coming into contact with the criminal justice system will have quicker access to a mental health evaluation. As it stands now, some individuals are held overnight simply because the very few employed doctors cannot make their way to a courthouse for an intake because they are so busy, and that is a tragic reality we must address.
I would also expand the Road To Recovery program, which was recently started in the Dorchester District Court, to all of the district courts throughout Suffolk County. This valuable program, which partners with the Gavin Foundation, will help drive those suffering from addiction away from prosecution and toward treatment.
McAuliffe: Ending the cash bail system can have the most positive impact. If someone addicted or mentally ill is locked up for the duration of their case, they are quite literally locked out of programs specifically designed to address their challenges. So when the time comes to resolve their case, we have no new information to consider. If instead, they are free, they have the opportunity to engage in the very treatment needed to address the root of their criminality. Also, as humans we often find motivation to approach that which we have avoided when we have something to lose. We should use the pendency of a case as a catalyst because drug and mental health treatment are better at reducing recidivism than jail.
Rollins: The DA can positively impact things like addiction recovery, mental illness and homelessness by refusing to prosecute people for being addicted, mentally ill or homeless. As DA, I will use my office to speak against these social issues being criminalized. I am particularly sensitive to addiction recovery, as I personally have custody of my nieces due to this very issue.
Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins
Do you support the idea of widening judicial discretion in sentencing if it means a more equitable system?
Carvalho: As State Representative, I was the lead filer of legislation to eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing because I believe judges should have more discretion over sentencing. Judges are neutral parties and abritar within our system. We need to looks at all angles of each case that comes before the courts in a fair and equitable way and look towards implementing diversion programs for non-violent crimes.
Champion: Yes. I support any solution that will be equitable, fair, and just.
Henning: I believe in a more equitable system for all. This can take many forms, one of which is the use of sound prosecutorial discretion. Unlike judges, prosecutors are charged with investigating and assessing the risk that each defendant may pose to public safety. Judges are not answerable to voters and are not charged with the duty of ensuring public safety. The convening of prosecutors, judges, and defense lawyers is what helps to ensure that the best interests of the defendant and the public are accounted for at sentencing.
McAuliffe: Of course. For far too long in the system, the people who need the most got the least. Prosecutors have been handing out mandatory minimum sentences that abolish any judicial discretion. It is time for discretion to return to the judge to be exercised after weighing arguments and evidence from both sides. When cases are charged as mandatory minimums, the judge cannot judge or apply the right disposition for the right reason to the right person.
Rollins: Absolutely. As a former Governor Deval Patrick appointee to the Judicial Nominating Commission, I fully understand and appreciate the skill, legal experience, exceptional judgment, and temperament necessary to become a judge in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I unequivocally support widening judicial discretion in sentencing for these completely vetted and proven lawyers who now serve on the bench.
At-Large Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu
What specific efforts can the District Attorney make to interrupt the cycle of violence and address trauma in communities most impacted by crime?
Carvalho: Living in Dorchester, I see families impacted by violence and trauma every day. I have attended too many wakes and have been working to find ways to heal our communities. As district attorney, I promise I will work every day to keep our families safe. We need to hire more staff in the district attorney’s office that reflect the communities we represent and find more ways to communicate and listen to the residents of Suffolk County.
Champion: The office of the district attorney has to be present in the lives of the residents. We need to invest human capital. We can no longer sit behind a desk or at a committee meeting. We have to come out of our office and go into the community and become a fabric of the environment we serve. We will interrupt the
cycle by getting involved and extending opportunities for children in the community to join us and participate in the process while learning new skills. I read these questions and I wonder if the author has ever experienced watching someone shot, stabbed or beaten. Working within the community and
experiencing trauma is not textbook for me. It is almost insulting when people write a textbook question. I have watched my mother being beaten and cut, I have witnessed by aunt beaten so bad her ribs were broken, I watched a child running down Warren Street and jumped and stabbed only to find out later he lost his life, I have watched a SWAT team block off my street. The trauma I feel as part of the community is shock, anger, and disappointment. I hear a lot of people talking about solutions. I just haven't seen a lot of people taking any action. This is another reason I decided to stop complaining and to simply run for office.
Henning: Keeping our streets safe from gun violence, gang-related activity, shootings, and other violent crime is the primary goal of the district attorney’s office, and that has to be the office’s top priority because those most severe crimes destroy communities. There are myriad ways to specifically address the trauma in communities that are disproportionately impacted by crime, but the most significant steps are 1) devoting more victim advocate resources to unsolved shootings, so that victims – who are primarily people of color – are assisted immediately and don’t have to wait for a case to be solved before getting help, and 2) having our prosecutors spend more time in the communities we serve so that our constituents know us and we know them.
McAuliffe: Defendants are almost always first victims. This creates trauma for them, their families and their communities that when left unaddressed, exacerbates and creates more crime. When victims cannot or will not cooperate with the police, the victim is often left hanging in the wind with no support, no trauma services and no healing. Hurt people hurt people. I believe the job of the DA is to increase safety which means serving and valuing all victims because, regardless of their cooperation, they desperately need to process, feel and heal their pain. If we have whole swaths of people with untreated trauma, we have more crime. Hippocrates said that healing is a matter of time but also a matter of opportunity. The DA must ensure all victims are given the opportunity to engage in meaningful trauma services and this will only happen when the DA sees, hears, and values all victims, not just those who can help them win a case.
Rollins: Disruption & Interruption: Very often, the individuals committing the majority of the violent crimes in Suffolk County, are already known to law enforcement. One way that we can disrupt and interrupt the cycle of violence is by holding interventions in those individuals lives. But, if we ask them to stop committing crimes, and/or to no longer be affiliated with gang-related activities, what are we replacing those vacancies with in that individual’s life? We need to focus our resources on programs, trainings and opportunities for these young men and women. The truth of the matter is, we are going to be paying for them either way -- through incarceration or through programs, trainings and opportunities. I choose the latter.
Trauma: We absolutely need to address the trauma in the communities most impacted by crimes. There are entire segments of Suffolk County that are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of the constant violence and death happening on their streets and in their neighborhoods. This is a mental health crisis and we need to be much better at letting people know about all of the public services that are available to them. Whether it is through the cities of Boston, Chelsea, Winthrop, or Revere, or through Catholic charities, Community Legal Services and Counseling Center, the Refugee and Immigration Assistance Center, or the Samaritans, there is help available for people in crisis. And certainly, when violence does in fact happen, we owe it to our residents to have mental health services available for them immediately. There should not be a requirement that someone request services after a shooting or a homicide. We should know that those events automatically trigger the necessity to deploy services
At-Large Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu
How can the District Attorney play a role in addressing the opioid crisis?
Carvalho: Too many families across Suffolk County are suffering from the opioid crisis. Working with the state, city, and advocates we need to put more funding and resources into solving this crisis. We should be treating opioid addicts differently than violent criminals, we need to find more beds for recovery and treat people for addiction. Addicts are not receiving treatment when they are in prison, and we need to implement diversion programs pre-arraignment to ensure people are receiving adequate treatment quickly.
Champion: The office of the district attorney can play a vital role in the allocation of resources to programs that help with recovery and education. We can also make sure that we are diverting individuals struggling with substance abuse so they can
focus on getting healthy.
Henning: We will not solve the opioid crisis by incarcerating those in our community struggling with addiction. Instead, we should seek to have these persons “intaked” by health care providers at the courthouse in order to get them the services they really need. Right now, our mental health court at the Central Division Boston Municipal Court is making strides in reducing recidivism for people with serious mental health issues, through developing a health plan and offering access to health care providers. I want to continue to build upon this effort by creating more of these sessions in more courts, or alternatively, expanding the BMC session to reach more people in other neighborhoods of Boston. We need the trial court to employ more court clinicians so that people coming into contact with the criminal justice system will have quicker access to a mental health evaluation. As it stands now, some individuals are held overnight simply because the very few employed doctors cannot make their way to a courthouse for an intake because they are so busy, and that is a tragic reality we must address. I would also expand the Road To Recovery program, which was recently started in the Dorchester District Court, to all of the district courts throughout Suffolk County. This valuable program, which partners with the Gavin Foundation, will help drive those suffering from addiction away from prosecution and toward treatment.
McAuliffe: The DA must constantly reiterate that the War on Drugs failed us in the past, wasted billions of dollars better spent elsewhere like on education and housing and cost immense human damage. Jail does not cure addiction; we need to concentrate on innovative new treatment programs that do anything and everything to help people not fail. Also, the DA must start to concentrate on those responsible for increasing demand such as doctors overprescribing at pain clinics.
Rollins: The DA can advocate for services for people struggling with opioid addiction and divert them rather than incarcerate them. As stated previously, I am particularly vested in this area, as I have seen the very real consequences addiction has on families and loved ones.
At-Large Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu
What role do you see for collaboration with the city in your policy priorities?
Carvalho: As district attorney, I will work to transcend the office and be a partner to all city officials. I want to work with our public schools to ensure we end the cradle to prison pipeline and put more funding into youth jobs and diversion programs.
Champion: We will need to collaborate with the city on mental health programs, opioid related issues including those quality of life issues facing residents in the South End/Roxbury, and Dorchester, and educational issues to look to implement
countywide programs like the Chelsea Hub.
Henning: I would coordinate with leaders in Boston, Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop to advocate for state support in creating safe, vibrant communities throughout Suffolk County. There are a number of ways that we need to be partners in advocating for this support. Notably, we need more funding for programs that will help people coming out of prison to get a job and get on their feet. I also believe we need to increase the availability of housing units for temporary emergency shelter for victims who are in danger. I would continue to let the legislature know that the funding for salaries for assistant district attorneys must increase if we want to foster robust recruitment of a truly diverse group of candidates. My hope is that local leaders and politicians will also step up to the plate and call for greater funds to be allocated toward a new data tracking system at the DA’s office. Comprehensive data tracking and record-keeping will ensure the transparency we need as a pillar of rebuilding community trust in the criminal justice system.
McAuliffe: I will work closely with the mayor, the city council, police, schools, community centers, and houses of worship to create innovative responses to violence and guns. It seems like every July we attend the same meetings about the same violence and talk about the same old when we need to start thinking differently to get different results.
Rollins: I intend to frequently collaborate with the cities of Chelsea, Winthrop, Revere and Boston regarding my policy priorities. My time at MassDOT, the MBTA and Massport has shown and taught me the importance of collaboration and notification prior to dissemination on policy and change related matters. I fully intend to continue my practice of collaboration as the next Suffolk County DA.