Interim Suffolk D.A. Kevin Hayden: The Boston.com interview

Politics

“I have wept in the midnight hour for the city. I have awoken in the morning and paced the floor in prayer for this city because it really, really matters to me.”

Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden. Suffolk District Attorney’s Office

When Gov. Charlie Baker called Kevin Hayden to ask if he would be Suffolk County’s interim district attorney, there was a second question, too: Will Hayden run for a full term?

Hayden, at the time, said he didn’t know. But he was definitely leaning that way — after all, why would he want to work for nine months and then move on?

And plus, there was this: Hayden had spent 11 years of his legal career in that very office, and being the county’s chief prosecutor had definitely crossed his mind before.

“You know, people dream about a lot of things. Dreams and potential reality are very different things,” Hayden recalled in a recent interview with Boston.com over Zoom. “And when this became a real, potential reality, I was excited by it. I was humbled by it.”

A talk with with his wife sealed his decision, he said.

“When she [confirmed it], I knew that this was the right time, right place for me to pursue a dream, and to go back home to where it all started,” Hayden said.

In his time in office and since his campaign kick-off in February, Hayden has put an emphasis on using his post to help provide services over prosecution when possible, particularly for cases involving mental health and substance abuse.

He’s positioning himself as the experienced prosecutor, a 54-year-old with a 25-year-long career under his belt, in contrast to his opponent in the Sept. 6 Democratic primary, Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo.

Arroyo, 34, was elected to the council in 2019. Prior to that, he served as a public defender for three years.

Hayden has also made clear he intends to aggressively pursue violent crime in the county, including cracking down on unsolved shootings that he says can “drive cycles of violence real quick.”

Still, he has faced some controversy during his short time in office, including the aftermath of a Boston Globe report that invited question into how Hayden’s office has handled its investigation into an alleged cover-up by an MBTA Transit Police officer. (Hayden has repeatedly denied his office has mishandled the case.)

In this interview, Hayden spoke about all of those issues and more, from rising concerns of white supremacy in the region to the need for reforming life-without-parole sentences for young adults convicted of crimes.

Here’s what he said:


Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Boston.com spoke with Hayden on Aug. 17, nearly a week before a Boston Globe report found that Arroyo was investigated as a teenager twice for possible sexual assaults. Arroyo has denied any wrongdoing and said he was unaware of the investigations before the report, and has gone on to allege an “abuse of power” over the leaked police reports. Hayden has denied he, his office, or his campaign illegally leaked the documents to the press.

Boston.com: It’s an interesting time, I imagine, to be in any form of law enforcement, between A) what we’re seeing on the national level, and B) there’s just so many changes happening in Boston. Have you had a chance to sit down with the new police commissioner, Michael Cox, and chat about things?

Hayden: I have not sat down with him yet. I have spoken to him a couple of times. I’m very excited about him and his arrival. I knew him when I was in the D.A.’s office before. He’s a man of high honor and integrity. I respect him infinitely.

And more importantly, I know that he shares my heart and that I share his heart around community policing, community and prosecution, engaging and collaborating and working with our communities as an important way to do intervention and prevention work; an important way to build trust and transparency; and an important way to really ultimately, truly protect and serve our community.

So I’m excited about the opportunity to work with him. I know that we have similar goals and passions around this work and how vital it is, and so I look forward to working with him. So yeah, it’s an exciting chance. And I think that he and I can do some really great things for this city.

In July, after the white supremacist march through Boston, law enforcement was criticized for its apparent lack of knowledge of the event — the alleged assault on a Black activist was part of that. You are appointing two more assistant district attorneys but, if elected district attorney, how will you respond to the growing concerns of white supremacy? And is there anything that can be done proactively to get out in front of some of this?

Absolutely. And I think proactively and the growing concerns is precisely the point, right?

We’re thinking forward on this issue. We have white supremacist groups who have come here, but who have also said they’re going to continue to come here, and that they believe that this is fertile ground for them.

We will stand against that. Our entire community is collaboratively — with the city and with the attorney general, and with the police, and with the U.S. Attorney’s Office — we, as Boston, are committed to standing against that.

There’s a reason I think why they want to come here, because we are richly diverse and inclusive and accepting of one another and I think it’s [that] we have such a such a vibrant, inclusive community here in Boston. They want to come against that. We’re not going to allow that to happen.

And we have established and are starting a Civil Rights Unit in our office, and we’re doing that looking forward — we’re not looking just to what has happened but we’re looking forward to some key election cycles both now and in two years from now. We’re looking at decisions that our Supreme Court is making that are controversial and that are sparking a lot of debate and protests, and we’re looking at groups that have been involved in four instances in the last year, three since … St. Patrick’s Day of this year.

So we’ve committed a District Court prosecutor and a Superior Court prosecutor who will be specifically assigned to address civil rights crimes, violations that can and should be handled at the D.A.’s office level. There will certainly be some of those. The ones that happen most recently will probably never make their way out of District Court necessarily, right? So we as a D.A.’s office need to be prepared to deal with those.

And we also need to be prepared to deal collaboratively with the attorney general, with the U.S. attorney, with the mayor, and everyone else who’s come up against this. But that’s been sort of our response looking forward. We had a community meeting — we determined that we need to be better prepared going forward. This is part of our response.

Was there previously not a Civil Rights Unit in the D.A.’s office? Again, I know you just started the job earlier this year, but…

Historically was there ever one? I don’t know for sure. I know there wasn’t one when I got here. This was something we thought about even before the incident in July, it was something that we were thinking about. Certainly after the July incident, it was something that we were really, really thinking about, and now we’re glad we did that. I think we were forward thinking and I think that we were forward thinking the right way.

But there wasn’t one when I got here. I don’t know if there ever has been one. But we see the need now. And hopefully if we’re successful, there won’t be a huge need, but we’re definitely going to be prepared and ready.

Earlier this year, you expanded the “Services Over Sentences” program which is aimed at providing support in cases involving substance abuse and mental health issues. What have you learned since that expansion, and do you see more potential in these kinds of initiatives within the D.A.’s office moving forward?

This is a program that we absolutely hope to expand upon. You know, we invested $400,000 of asset forfeiture money into making this happen. That’s just the beginning. We’re going to need to spend more money to continue it.

And I don’t know if we’ve necessarily learned anything that we didn’t already know. What we know is that … for people who have either substance use disorder problems or mental health problems, our criminal justice system is ill-equipped to deal with them. And simply prosecuting them and locking them up doesn’t work. It doesn’t get them the treatment they need. It doesn’t help them, and in some ways it could it can harm them. And we know that and we’ve known that for quite some time now.

But what this program allowed us to do and will continue to allow us to do is to address those that have these issues that are what we call high risk, high need. So high risk, high need means that they’re probably beyond the point … of not getting arraigned, right? Now, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get services over sentences. And that’s why we established this program because we want to make sure that they get the treatment that they need. We want to make sure that they get into recovery. We want to make sure they get access to housing, and access to all the various things that they need to hopefully get clean and sober. That’s what’s going to get them out of Mass. and Cass [the region’s epicenter for the overlapping homelessness, mental health, and addiction crises]. If we don’t tackle that and address that, they’re going back there.

The other thing that we have learned, which we already knew but we’re taking a slightly different tack on it, is that those down there who are vulnerable, those who are addicted, those who are homeless, those who have mental health issues … they are being preyed upon.

So the people that are dealing drugs down there? Absolutely not. We arraigned someone just on Monday for dealing drugs down there at a pretty high level. This guy was, based on the facts as we know currently, not much of a question about whether or not he was actually dealing drugs down there to the addicted who wanted it.

We’ve gone after human traffickers down there because women who suffer from addiction problems are put in a particularly vulnerable state as well. So we’ve worked very hard to address the human trafficking issue.

We have to recognize and understand and accept as a reality and take it head on that it is a human tragedy that’s going on down there, that people are dying, that people are suffering, and even those who are not addicted or have the mental health issues are in a really bad way as well. We have businesses down there that are literally on the brink of disaster. We have our own Suffolk County House of Corrections officers that can’t even get to and from work safely. And so there’s a public safety issue that is down there as well. There’s a public health issue for those who are addicted and have mental health [issues], but there’s also a public safety issue.

And if we don’t address both and remove those who are preying upon the vulnerable down there, then I think we’re going to be hard fought to solve the problem. So those who are creating the public safety problem down there, we’re addressing.

As part of these interviews, something that we like to do is allow our readers the opportunity to submit questions directly to candidates. So we have a couple of those questions for you. The first one is from Philip Wright, who lives in Boston, and their question is, “Which of former D.A. Rollins’s policies do you agree with?

That’s a hard question because there’s a lot of policies.

I think that one of the things that now-U.S. Attorney Rollins created, which we stand firmly behind, is the Integrity Review Board. It’s vitally, vitally important that we continue to ensure the integrity of our cases and of our convictions and make sure that they are done right and done lawfully, and also that our sentences are appropriate as well. There needs to be a continued focus on that as well, in terms of whether or not these sentences that are provided in connection with convictions are appropriate. So that’s something that we absolutely, positively continue to stand behind and will continue to engage in zealously.

There was a case that began with her and that we continue to support and advanced after I took office. We’re proud and happy about the fact that just recently the court agreed with us that for eight emerging adults that are convicted of first-degree murder that a life without parole sentence is not appropriate for them. That it’s unconstitutional. That was a case that began under her administration, continued under ours. We support it fully. We’re so happy that the court agreed with us. And I think that’s an important part of criminal legal reform — just recognizing and understanding that, you know, an emerging adult, an 18-, 19-year-old convicted of first-degree murder, it’s just not appropriate that they be subjected to life without parole. At the very least, [they] deserve a full-blown hearing to determine whether or not that sentence is appropriate.

So the Integrity Review Board is something we’ll obviously continue to engage in. The unsolved homicides strategy is something that we will also continue to engage in. In fact, we want to expand that to address unsolved shootings comprehensively, as well. That’s something I’ve got a lot of experience in. So our Boston First program is designed to target gun traffickers and it’s also designed to help us be more effective in gathering evidence on unsolved shootings.

Unsolved shootings can drive cycles of violence real quick, and a greater solve rate of unsolved shootings can help control violence as well. So, the push program for unsolved homicides is something that we continue to be dedicated to, and we are seeking to expand that to make sure that we’re focusing on unsolved shootings as well.

I mean, there’s so much of what she’s done that that we continue to support. I applaud the way she’s enlarged the tent and expanded the territory around alternatives to prosecution for less violent offenses. We’ll continue in those efforts as well, with a slightly different emphasis, but something that we will obviously certainly be continuing.

Your office has been criticized lately for how it’s handled an alleged cover-up case involving an MBTA Transit Police officer. I know you’ve defended your office and you’ve also said you opened up the grand jury investigation into those allegations. What do you want voters specifically understand about what happened here? And then also, can voters trust that as district attorney you will adequately investigate cases of alleged police misconduct?

I think voters need to know that this case was always open. It was never closed, period. End of story. And I know that because I’m the district attorney and I never said it was closed.

It was opened under now U.S. Attorney Rollins’s administration when she was here in the D.A.’s office. It was actually open longer under her tenure than it was under mine. It was never closed under mine. And we’ve reached the determination of how to handle this case that we would have reached no matter what. Whether or not people want to believe that or not, you know, that’s up to them. But those are the plain and simple facts.

That’s with regards to that particular case, but more generally speaking, I think that I want people to know that when it comes to police misconduct, when it comes to crimes committed by the police that we will always take that seriously — our office as well. We are sworn to protect and serve. We are held to an even higher standard because we are placed in a position of public trust. We will always guard and stand up against anything that violates that public trust, and we will never hesitate to prosecute someone by virtue of their job, whether it’s a job in uniform or whether it’s a job in a high-rise building. There’s no one that’s immune from prosecution by our office when appropriate. And that includes our police department. And you know that’s a tough job to do, but it’s one that we have to do.

We inherited, I think it was 11 — I think we’ve cleared a couple — we inherited 11 officer-involved shootings from U.S. Attorney Rollins, who didn’t clear any of them while she was in office. We are working through those. We’ve handled some and we’re about to finish up some others.

But when it comes to officer misconduct, we will always treat it seriously. We will always hold ourselves to the same high standards in those sorts of cases that we do in every case — follow the facts where they lead us to and zealously represent our communities because that’s our job … and ensuring public safety in these cases, and that includes and extends to holding law enforcement accountable when we need to.

You mentioned a little bit earlier about shootings, and our next reader question has to do with that. William Corrigan, from the South End, wants to know, “Are you going to take gun crime seriously and prosecute the people arrested with ILLEGAL guns that the BPD arrest every day? Reading the arrest records of these people, many have been arrested in the past and have had charges lessened.

Yes, we will. I’ve made this a priority under my administration.

It doesn’t matter where you go in Suffolk County, whether it’s a backyard barbecue, or if it’s a community organization that works with young people, whether it’s church, a boardroom, it doesn’t matter where you go — our courthouses — everyone nods their head in agreement when the statement is made like this one, which is just that there are simply too many guns on our street right now. And we have to do something about that. If we don’t, we may find ourselves on the back end wondering how we got here because right now, every other crime statistic and every other violent crime, crime rates are down right now. The one crime rate that is up is firearm possession, and possession of illegal firearms can drive cycles of violence really quickly.

I have a lot of experience in this area as a Juvenile Unit prosecutor, as a Gang Unit prosecutor, as the chief of the Safe Neighborhood Initiative when I was in the D.A.’s office before. It’s an issue that we have to lay a hold of. We’ve got guns in the hands of too many young people. We’ve got higher caliber and capacity of guns than we’ve had, certainly when I was a prosecutor.

One of the second [crime] scenes I went to what after I became the D.A. was at a gas station in Roslindale, which was right down the hill from where I lived — a gas station I went to about two to three times a week. And I think there were 70-something shell casings at that scene that came from two guns. That’s a problem. The amount of daytime shootings that we’re seeing is a problem … We have to be concerned about these issues. We can’t turn a blind eye to them.

And we’re committed to doing that, and that includes tackling our gun problem and also dealing with unsolved shootings. That’s what our Boston First program is designed to do. And it’s designed to work with the [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives] to engage in a national reach where we can address traffickers.

We got a guy coming off a train from Tennessee in South Station several months ago. We knew he was coming. He had a duffel bag. He was pulled aside immediately. There were 15 guns in there, 20 large capacity feeding devices, and a gaggle of ammunition. That’s a gun trafficker. That’s not a gun possessor. And if we can lay a hold of the situation that way, we will be infinitely more effective. That didn’t just take 15 guns off the street, it took 15 guns off the street before they even got to the street, before they even got into the hands of our young people. And that’s an important part of what we’re doing to try to address the problem.

You talked about the former District Attorney Rachael Rollins kind of “enlarging the tent” — I’m curious, in your practice and how you approach the law, if there’s any particular area where you would want to see the D.A.’s office play more of a role? What’s the top list of priorities for you these days?

Here’s what I know: No D.A. has ever done it the same way [as the prior ones]. I applaud all of our prior district attorneys from Ralph Martin, who first hired me and was one of my first mentors, to Dan Conley, who was the one that promoted me to the Safe Neighborhood Initiative, and to Rachael Rollins and the work that she did, during her time, and sort of expanding some really significant ideas around criminal legal reform and around alternatives to prosecution.

For me, in addition to the gun situation, we’re going to focus on two things Boston has done very well on in the past and has been nationally recognized and held out as a beacon in these areas — people have literally flocked to Boston to see how we do these things.

We’re going to turn, in meaningful ways, to intervention and prevention strategies, in close collaboration with all our community partners. That’s why I’ve committed to a community engagement team. We’ve already hired two and there’ll be more to come. The community engagement team … is going to engage in what we talked about earlier, that community policing, community prosecution efforts in ways that we never have before. That’s how we build trust. That’s how we build transparency. And that’s how we do real good intervention and prevention work — by working with our stakeholders in our community to make a difference. So that’s something we’re absolutely, positively committed to.

On the back end of it — and we did this well in the past and … we can do better now — we need to re-dedicate ourselves to our returning citizens, making sure that they have gotten real rehabilitation during their periods of incarceration and making sure that they have real access to opportunities and resources when they come out. Our trades and our unions are all about this now. They see the win-win in supporting returning citizens, men and women coming into our community. Our food service industry sees the same. We have Suffolk Construction and organizations with real resources that see the value of this. So we have an opportunity to impact our returning citizens in a more meaningful way. We need to do a better job at that. It is the greatest form of restorative justice that we could ever engage in.

And so you know, we’re committed to a comprehensive and holistic approach to criminal legal reform, and to keeping people safe. So it’s intervention and prevention. It’s alternatives to prosecution, with robust diversion alternatives. It’s traditional prosecution when necessary, and it’s a focus on our returning citizens. And it’s that complete approach that’s really going to make a difference. That’s what we’re committed to.

Anything else you want voters to know about you before Election Day?

I would say two things: One, people need to know that I really have the genuine heart and compassion to do this job. I’ve been a member of Jubilee Christian Church for 26 years. I met my wife there, [I’m] a leader and deacon there. My spiritual practice and my faith is what guides a lot of how I approach this job. I believe in the power of redemption. I believe in second chances. I believe in the power of the human spirit to change and overcome, and with that lens of compassion is how I look at doing this job …

I mean, I have wept in the midnight hour for the city. I have awoken in the morning and paced the floor in prayer for this city because it really, really matters to me and I think I want people to know that.

And another thing I think I want people to know and remember is that this is a very key race — it’s an important race — and experience matters. And I have the experience to do this job. I’m built to do this job. I have 25 years of collective experience that equips me to be the D.A.

You know, my opponent, he’s a 34-year-old politician. He has three-and-a-half years as a criminal defense attorney. He’s got a wonderful and bright future ahead of him. But the distinction between me and him when it comes to who’s the right fit and the right person with the experience to do this job, there’s just simply no comparison.

And I believe that when the voters look [they’ll see] this is a job where experience matters. It’s different than other politically elected positions. It’s a job where experiences matters. It’s a job where you want someone at the helm that knows what they’re doing, and I believe I’m that person. I know I am, and I have the passion and commitment to do it as well.

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