Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins called for increased social services for people with substance use disorders following last week’s contentious police sweep on an area that some refer to as 'Methadone Mile.' Rollins also acknowledged growing frustration from both residents and police about the drug problem in the area.
“There’s a small handful of people [who were arrested] that engaged in violence, and they will be held accountable,” she told Jim Braude Monday on Greater Boston. “But when we use words like ‘sweep’ and engage in behaviors where an entire group of people — irrespective of what their involvement was — are arrested, we’re going to get people who might simply just be homeless, or might simply have a substance use disorder addiction, or be suffering from a mental illness.”
"Operation Clean Sweep," as it was referred to by the Boston Police Department, led to 34 arrests over the course of two days in a part of the South End that has long been known as a gathering spot for drug users due to its proximity to a methadone clinic and other addiction services.
The Boston Police Department has acknowledged that the concerted arrests were in response to an alleged assault on a corrections officer from the nearby Suffolk County House of Corrections who was not in uniform at the time.
“I think there’s a lot of people, though, that are questioning … why it took a Suffolk County correction officer getting attacked to do something down there when we’ve had a problem down there for quite some time,” Rollins said.
Rollins told Greater Boston that many of those arrested were not from Boston and were wanted in other jurisdictions. She has thus far been to three arraignments for people arrested in the sweep, she said, all of whom had engaged in violent behavior and were being held on bail.
Rollins added that she and Boston Police Commissioner William Gross are on the same page about the need for increased social services, but she acknowledged that one part of his account differed from that of activists. Some advocates have spread images on social media of wheelchairs they said were confiscated from homeless people during the raid — a claim the police vehemently deny. Gross said the confiscated wheelchairs were abandoned and covered in human waste.
“I have no reason to believe he’s lying,” Rollins said. “But I also just left a meeting right now with people from the Boston Users Union … they’re hands on the ground, boots on the ground, right there on the Mile. And they’re telling a different story than that. So what I can tell you is, it’s often something in between.”
Rollins also spoke about her office’s unique approach to investigating cases in which officers shoot and kill civilians. Her office has created an independent panel of citizens to investigate such cases and provide recommendations to her, in an effort to stop the sometimes cozy relationship that can exist between district attorney offices and the police they investigate.
To her knowledge, it is the only such program in the country.
“Ultimately the decision lies with me, but they have the ability to ask whatever question they want and to guide this investigation to make sure it’s thorough and complete.”
She said the panel includes former law enforcement officers, judges and investigators and is currently investigating this weekend’s fatal shooting of a 32-year-old man in Revere by Everett police following a car chase.
Rollins also spoke again about her handling of a Charlestown assault case that she inherited when she came into office. The assault occurred in 2017 but has entered the public discourse again after the Boston Globe spotlighted it in a July piece that examined the new district attorney’s time in office thus far.
The assailant in that case was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor rather than a felony after allegedly attacking a woman in Charlestown and leaving her with severe head trauma. Rollins said the charging decision was based on the fact that he had a mental illness and no previous interaction with the criminal justice system.
When previously questioned about the decision, Rollins had stated that Conley had made the same deal for the defendant. This turned out not to be true — something Rollins later admitted in a statement.
“I issued, immediately, a statement saying, ‘That was not accurate, what I said,’” Rollins said.
She also told Greater Boston she had not personally approved the deal at the time, saying that was typical practice for an office than handles approximately 35,000 cases per year.
“I’m rarely, if ever, told about some of the district court cases, unless there’s a public records request,” she said, adding that this policy has now been changed.
But still, Rollins said that she stood by her office’s decision in the case.
“We made the right decision here. That, I will never back down from — whether a previous administration offered it or not,” she said.
**Editor's note: This story and headline has been updated.