An awkward handoff at Suffolk DA’s office
Rollins’s successor, Hayden, left to close book on police shooting cases
IT HASN’T EXACTLY been a seamless transition at the Suffolk County district attorney’s office, which Rachael Rollins left in January to become US attorney. Gov. Charlie Baker named Kevin Hayden, a former Suffolk assistant DA who had been chairing the state’s Sex Offender Registry Board, to take her place.
Earlier this week, the Globe reported that Hayden is reviewing nine cases of deadly force encounters by police in Suffolk County dating back to 2017. Eight of them were before he took office and one was a fatal encounter that occurred since he took the reins, the fatal police shooting of a man officials say stabbed an officer last week in Dorchester.
Making good on her 2018 campaign vow to increase the transparency of the office, Rollins had, to great fanfare, established a Discharge Integrity Team charged with thoroughly reviewing all fatal encounters involving police officers in the county. But she left office without having released reports on any of the seven shootings that occurred during her tenure or the one outstanding case from her predecessor, Dan Conley.
Hayden told the Globe that some of the investigations were “very, very near completion,” but that he now felt obligated to review all the cases before “putting my name on” a final report on any of the incidents. He said he will follow the facts and file charges against officers in any case where it seems warranted.
The status of those investigations seemed unclear from a statement she provided to the Globe, which Rollins also shared with CommonWealth when asked about the cases. “I am confident that each of the families whose loved one died in Suffolk County know, because I told them, that the deadly encounter they had with law enforcement was a tragedy, but likely was not a crime.”
That seemed to suggest her office had completed all the investigations and cleared officers of any crime in each of them. But in an interview on Thursday, Rollins said that is not the case. She said some of the reports were essentially complete while others were not. Her comment, she said, referred to conversations she had with family members of those killed by police often in the first day or two following the encounter with police.
While officials are often tight-lipped about sharing any preliminary conclusions early in an investigation, Rollins said she often faced distraught family members imploring her to file charges against the police officer who had killed their relative.
She said she assured them “we are absolutely going to do a full investigation.” But Rollins said the initial indication in all of the cases was that the person had been armed with a gun or knife, which, if substantiated by the completed investigation, would make the idea of charges being filed against any officer “a very steep climb.”
“I’d say, let’s be clear, we’re going to turn over every rock,” Rollins said she told family members. “I just need you to understand, as of right now, there are no arrests that are going to be made.”Rollins praised the work of the law enforcement and judicial experts who made up her Discharge Integrity Team. Her failure to oversee completion and release of any reports, she said, “is one of the very few regrets I have” with her job as DA.
Hayden’s office said the first of the completed investigations of the eight cases he inherited could be released as early as today.