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DA candidates face off in Roxbury

Ricardo Arroyo, Kevin Hayden discuss vision for office during Ward 12 forum

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
DA candidates face off in Roxbury
Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden addresses the audience as Ward 12 Co-chair Jose Lopez and City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo look on. BANNER PHOTO

Kevin Hayden has spent much of his life working behind the scenes, as an assistant district attorney under Ralph Martin and Dan Conley, as head of the Sex Offender Registry Board and as a criminal defense attorney in private practice. But when Gov. Charlie Baker tapped him to serve out the remainder of Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins’ term, he says he felt called to public service.

“I got involved as a Black man who has been discriminated against by the system, a husband to a Caribbean immigrant, a father to two teenage boys, a prosecutor fighting to keep our community safe,” he said, wrapping up introductory remarks during a Ward 12 Democratic Committee forum Monday.

City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo arrived at his decision to run for public office based on his experiences as a public defender in Essex and Suffolk counties where he says he saw racial disparities produce divergent outcomes for defendants of color and white defendants, the poor and the wealthy. As a city councilor elected in 2019, he kicked off his first term with a resolution, later adopted by the mayor, declaring racism a public health crisis and worked to move funding from policing to services that prevent violence.

He helped Rollins develop a list of 15 misdemeanor charges that Suffolk County assistant district attorneys would not prosecute and watched as the office took on a reform agenda.

Voters listen in on candidates for the Suffolk County district attorney’s office during a forum at the 12th Baptist Church in Roxbury. BANNER PHOTO

“This position takes courage,” he said. “This position requires you to take stances to push further than we are now. And that’s what I seek to do as your district attorney.”

Ward 12 co-chairman Jose Lopez, who moderated the forum, kicked off the question-and-answer by asking what role incarceration plays in an ex-offender’s ability to reintegrate into their community.

Arroyo said incarceration should only be used for high-level offenses.

“Incarceration should be reserved for those who are violent, those who are truly disruptive to our communities,” he said.

He noted that under Dan Conley, the district attorney’s office dismissed 60% of cases on Rollins’ list of 15 misdemeanor crimes. Under Rollins, 74% of such cases were dismissed.

“The difference was that now it was no longer based on the different micro biases and things that might be happening on an [assistant district attorney] level,” he said. “It was based on policies, so black people and people of color Latino people and other folks could access those things just as equally as somebody else who was not of that same race or have that same class structure.”

Arroyo said he is in favor of eliminating cash bail, a reform measure that has taken hold in jurisdictions across the country.

Hayden said he, too, is committed to reform.

“I take a backseat to no one when it comes to criminal legal reform,” he said, noting that he implemented intervention and crime prevention programs when he worked in the office as a young prosecutor.

Hayden said he is not maintaining Rollins’ list of 15 misdemeanor crimes where the default position is to not prosecute, but instead directing assistant district attorneys to decide on a case-by-case basis.

“What we will not do is focus on charges and a formulaic approach to who gets prosecuted and who doesn’t,” he said. “What we’ll focus on is the human being that caught the charges.”

Asked about the public health crisis in the Mass and Cass area, both Arroyo and Hayden said they would not prosecute people charged with addiction-related crimes.

Hayden said his office has committed $450,000 that has been seized from drug dealers and put it into services for people in the area. He also said his office is targeting people charged with sex trafficking and dealing drugs in the area.

Arroyo said arrests of low-level offenders, then diverting their cases to treatment facilities can fill such facilities with people motivated more by a desire to stay out of jail than by a desire to get clean. He reiterated his commitment to Rollins’ list of 15 misdemeanors, which include drug possession.

“You cannot say you are going to continue a process or you’re going to expand a process when you won’t even commit to the process,” he said, taking a dig at Hayden.

Asked how he would implement his platform, Hayden said he is building a community engagement team in the office.

“We are going to take community engagement and community collaboration and working with our communities and everyone in our communities to a level you have never seen before,” he said.

Arroyo said he is committed to collecting data on factors such as recidivism to track how well the office’s policies are working and making that date public.

“It’s what allows me to tell you that the list of 15 actually was studied, and they went 10 years back and they came back with the reality that 64% of folks who were not charged never came back before the courts with a misdemeanor,” he said. “Seventy-four percent never came back before the courts with a felony. We only know that because we have the data to actually study that.”

Both candidates said they would incorporate restorative justice into their administrations. Hayden pointed to the pilot project he has launched that would allow misdemeanor defendants to meet with victims of crime and law enforcement to make amends for their crime.

“There’s always a place for restorative justice, as long as the people involved are willing to engage in it and I can tell you this, our community needs it more and more and more,” Hayden said.

Arroyo said restorative justice should be rooted in the communities in which offenders and victims live, noting that Hayden has contracted with a nonprofit in Concord for his program and said violent offenses should be included in such a program as well as non-violent offenses.

“That’s not actually how restorative justice works,” he said. “And we have actual data and findings that show that restorative justice can work on all kinds of offenses can actually work in real ways.”

In closing, Arroyo underscored his commitment to continuing the progressive changes Rollins brought to the office.

“I’m bringing a certain perspective and lens to that that wants to equate justice and fairness for all,” he said. “And in order for us to do that we have to ensure that we are applying the laws fairly and that we are applying actual prescriptive medicine to the racial and class disparities that we see made worse every day in our court systems.”

Hayden, too, said he is committed to reforms, but said keeping the streets safe would be his number-one priority.

“We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that accountability is not a part of the equation because it is,” he said. “We will keep our streets safe and do criminal legal be formed together at the same time.”

Hayden and Arroyo will be on the ballot in the September 6 Democratic primary. The winner will be unopposed in the November election, as no Republican is seeking the seat.

Kevin Hayden, Ricardo Arroyo, Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office