Rollins reforms loom over Suffolk DA race
Ricardo Arroyo vows to stay on same track, while Kevin Hayden leans toward middle
RACHAEL ROLLINS’S name won’t be on the ballot this year, but her approach to prosecution in Suffolk County may end up being front and center.
Rollins – both by personality and policy – shook up the prosecutorial landscape in the state with her 2018 election as Suffolk County district attorney. The blunt-talking reformer held little back in calling out ways she said the criminal justice system had not been delivering justice, particularly when it comes to racial disparities in the system. Her change agenda was highlighted by the memo she issued declaring that there would be presumption against prosecuting those charged with 15 lower-level misdemeanor offenses.
Before even completing her first term, though, Rollins was gone, named by President Biden to be US attorney for Massachusetts. But as the DA’s race takes shape, it’s clear that the mark Rollins left will animate the contest to succeed her.
Gov. Charlie Baker named Kevin Hayden, a one-time prosecutor in the Suffolk DA’s office who most recently helmed the state Sex Offender Registry Board, to fill the vacancy when Rollins resigned last month. Hayden announced this week that he’ll run to keep the seat in this year’s election.
While Arroyo offers a full-throated embrace of Rollins’s policies, Hayden seems to be carving out ground more toward the political center. “I think too far left and too far right are a dangerous place to be,” he said in a recent interview. As for the Rollins do-not-prosecute list of 15 offenses, Hayden said he fully embraces “the overall notion behind it – the idea that our carceral footprint needs to be reduced,” but stops short of saying he will maintain the policy, as written.
On another hot-button topic, Arroyo favors eliminating the Boston Police Department’s controversial gang database, which a federal appeals court recently criticized as being too loose in its criteria for listing an individual. As a public defender for four years, two of them in Suffolk County, Arroyo said he knew of cases where “folks were wrongfully put in the gang database.” Hayden says changes may be needed to ensure the list is used fairly, but he said doing away with the gang database “would hamper law enforcement significantly.”
While reform advocates – and Rollins herself – hailed her 2018 victory as a clear mandate for the changes she instituted, Rollins won a five-way Democratic primary with 39 percent of the vote before easily rolling over a third-party opponent in the general election.City Councilor Michael Flaherty is said to be weighing a run for the seat. He didn’t return a message on Thursday. At this point, however, Hayden and Arroyo are the only declared candidates. If no one else jumps in, a head-to-head match-up of the two candidates in a Democratic primary would provide a clear barometer of the direction voters want to see the DA’s office take.