Is Rollins right to be angry?

She and her backers say Globe story was ‘fear-mongering’

SUFFOLK COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY Rachael Rollins and 19 educators who support her approach to justice are angry about a Boston Globe story examining her record in prosecuting crimes over the last six months.

Rollins, in an interview this week with Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, said the Globe story focused heavily on one case out of roughly 8,000 her office has handled since she took office in January. She says that case, involving a Charlestown woman who was out walking her dog when she suffered serious injuries during an altercation with a young man, was used as a pretext to suggest her policies are having a negative effect on public safety.

“You do not cherry pick matters and fear monger to say that the community is no longer safe,” Rollins said.

Nineteen educators sent an open letter to the Globe, which they also distributed to other news outlets, suggesting the article lacked context. “It relies upon a limited narrative structure to convey a clear, yet misleading, message to the reader: Rollins has gone too far, and the city is not safe,” the letter said.

Rollins paraphrased the educators in a far more extreme manner. “The 19 educators are saying this is not only Willie Hortonesque but almost Charles Stuartesque,” she said, referring to two criminals who in different ways stoked racist fears.

Horton, a black man serving a life sentence for murder in Massachusetts, became a national symbol for being soft on crime when he escaped while out on a furlough and raped and assaulted a woman in Maryland. Stuart was a white man who shot and killed his pregnant wife but then falsely blamed the crime on a black man who he said had hijacked the couple’s car in Roxbury.

Rollins’s description of the Globe’s story seems over the top. The story has two parts, one that analyzes her prosecution record so far and the other featuring a back and forth between critics and Rollins over what she describes as her holistic approach to law enforcement. “I represent not just the victim, but the defendant and the community,” she told the Globe.

Rollins is correct that the analysis of her prosecution record skips over instances where she made what might be considered the right call and focused on a handful of cases where her decisions were questioned. The most gripping of those was the case in Charlestown, where the victim complained about the decision to allow the defendant, who had mental health issues, to plead guilty to a lesser charge and avoid prison time. The victim, in an email to prosecutors, called the deal “flagrant, appalling, and disgusting,” according to the Globe.

Eagan pressed Rollins on this example of what she called “random violence” and demanded to know what was different between the Charlestown case and a more recent case involving an EMT who was stabbed by a woman with mental health issues. In the EMT case, Rollins said, she adopted a more hard-line stance in regard to bail.

Rollins suggested the Globe focused on the Charlestown case because it involved a white woman who suffered injuries at the hands of a man of color. “Let’s walk through who they are catering to in the Globe,” she said.

When Eagan continued to press Rollins’s handling of the case, Rollins remarked how Eagan appeared to know few of the details but nevertheless questioned Rollins’s judgment. “This is the sense of entitlement I’m talking about,” she said.

Rollins noted the Charlestown case occurred some two years ago when her predecessor, Dan Conley held the DA’s post. “Dan Conley charged this case. Dan Conley offered the same thing that my office offered. The only difference is we added $5,000 restitution,” she said.

But the Globe story quotes the lawyer representing the defendant in the Charlestown case as saying he would never have gotten the same deal from Conley’s office. Indeed, he confirmed in an interview with CommonWealth that Conley refused to drop the felony charge while Rollins agreed to a deal allowing the defendant to please guilty to a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

Rollins says the Globe story failed to point out that crime was down 9 percent in the first six months of the year. She didn’t take credit for that drop, but she noted she and Boston Police Commissioner William Gross live in the community and are responsive.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

A Globe editorial, which ran after the story appeared, praised Rollins for following through on her campaign promises. While the editorial said her execution at times has been bumpy, it urged her to refine her approach, not abandon it. “While she’s at it, she’d help her own cause immensely by developing a thicker skin in the face of the inevitable criticism and dropping the unlawyerly statements that only diminish her work,” the editorial said.

Fat chance of that happening. As she suggested to Braude and Eagan, the criticism of her is largely because she is a black woman. “If I had male genitals right now I’d be on the cover of Time magazine,” she said.