Barr visit with Gross stirs outcry

AG surprise appearance in Boston draws fire

WHEN YOU WANT A controversial photo op, look no further than US Attorney General William Barr. He will deliver. Three weeks after the AG’s involvement in President Trump’s much-criticized walk to an iconic Washington church to take a picture hoisting a Bible in the air, a spokeswoman for Barr set off of local frenzy by tweeting out a photo of the attorney general standing yesterday at Boston police headquarters with Police Commissioner William Gross yesterday.

“Commissioner Gross told us it was the first time a US Attorney General had visited Boston PD,” Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said. “Thank you, Comm. Gross, for your wonderful hospitality and invaluable insight and advice.”

The visit, which Mayor Marty Walsh said he didn’t know the subject of, comes as protests demanding police reform and defunding of departments continue across Massachusetts.

Barr is currently facing a lawsuit from protesters who were forcibly cleared with chemical irritants and smoke canisters from an area near the White House to make way for the presidential photo-op at St. John’s Church. The demonstrators say their constitutional rights were violated. Barr has said he didn’t give the tactical order to clear the protesters, even though a White House spokeswoman said he did.

Walsh seemed determined to distance himself from yesterday’s visit, tweeting out that the top law enforcement official and Trump administration “do not share Boston’s values or my values. His actions and general lack of respect for people and their rights are a danger to our city and the future of our country.”

City Councilors were quick to condemn the meeting, with City Councilor Michelle Wu tweeting that Barr has “dismissed systemic racism and creates/enforces racist policies through abuses of power.”

City Councilor Andrea Campbell was even more succinct, “Defund whatever the hell this is,” she tweeted above the photo of a smiling Barr and Gross.

Amid criticism, Gross held a press conference Thursday evening, noting that Walsh had no involvement in the meeting.

Gross said that while he may not agree with Barr on policy issues, he hoped the attorney general walked away knowing more about the Boston Police Department’s approach. He said he thought Barr should hear the message from a “black man and from a proud police commissioner,” in hopes that improvements could be made across the country before there’s “a damn race war.”

Gross said he highlighted to Barr the “8 Can’t Wait” reform policies that the department announced last week it would adhere to, although he said in the same breath that the department already had those policies in place. Gross also recommended enhanced training for police departments “from small to large,” law enforcement certification, and the adoption of de-escalation policies.

“No one hates a bad cop more than a good cop,” he said. “You can’t go from one department to another department hiding behind sealed documents.” He decried police corruption.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Earlier this week, however, a Boston Globe analysis alleged that misconduct ends up being  tolerated in the department Gross now leads. The report on lavish overtime spending highlighted the fact that 20-year veteran Lieutenant Timothy Kervin managed to keep his job after 191 violations involving payroll and is now the highest paid employee by Boston.

Gross said he’s undaunted by the discord over Barr’s visit. “They can tweet whatever they want,” he said at his press briefing. “But know this—I bragged about Boston today. Shame on anyone that has me cornered by guilt by association because I had a discussion.”

But the problem with that discussion to some, is that it seems no elected officials or community members were invited to the surprise visit. Late Thursday night, Rep. Ayanna Pressley tweeted her unhappiness with the situation. “AG Barr let’s skip the pleasantries,” she wrote. “Next time you set foot in my district I demand a face to face meeting where you look me in the eye and explain why you tear gassed peaceful protestors. Understood? I will have counsel present @MassAGO [state Attorney General Maura Healey].”