Riley Dowell, the daughter of Massachusetts Congresswoman Katherine Clark, is facing several charges in the aftermath of a protest on Boston Common over the weekend. She was arraigned in court Monday, and the situation has raised questions about what exactly happened and what it means when a member of a high-profile lawmaker's family is involved in a legal situation. Northeastern law professor and GBH legal analyst Daniel Medwed joined GBH's Morning Edition co-hosts Paris Alston and Jeremy Siegel to discuss. This transcript has been lightly edited.
Paris Alston: So the congresswoman tweeted about this, calling it a "very difficult time in the cycle of joy and pain in parenting," which I'm sure is a universal experience for many, Daniel. But let's start with the basics here on the legal front: What happened over the weekend?
Daniel Medwed: Here's the backdrop: On Saturday night, a group of protesters assembled at the Parkman Bandstand on Boston Common basically to express solidarity with the people of Atlanta, where a young environmental activist was shot and killed by the police last week. Things got a bit rowdy, so the police were summoned. And according to the BPD, they saw Riley Dowell basically spray paint the monument with the tags "No Cop City," which is a reference to the events in Atlanta, and the acronym "ACAB," which is an anti-police slogan. While they were arresting her, again, according to the BPD, about 20 protesters surrounded them screaming. And in the melee, Dowell apparently flailed her arms and struck one of the officers in the nose and mouth, drawing blood. So that led to her arrest and then later arraignment at the Boston Municipal Court.
Jeremy Siegel: So what exactly are the charges that she is facing? Are they serious here, for flailing an arm and hitting an officer?
Medwed: Well, they are relatively serious. Yesterday at BMC, she was arraigned on the following charges: Assault and battery of a public employee, vandalizing property, vandalizing a historical marker, tagging property and resisting arrest. Now, in Massachusetts, if you assault a public employee in the course of their duties, you can face up to two and a half years in the house of correction, which is what we call our county jail, or a fine of $5,000. So it's pretty serious. The other charges, at least nominally, seem less severe, but at the high end could carry the risk of prison time. I was pretty shocked. I took a look at the tagging property charge in Massachusetts. I was unfamiliar with it. Basically, when you use graffiti to deface property, you could get up to two years behind bars for that offense. Now, I don't think that Dowell will face anywhere near the high end of this sentence. Again, based on her criminal record, I'm not sure if there is one — that's going to be a factor that I don't know about. But I anticipate it will be resolved far short of extensive jail time.
Alston: So, Daniel, you mentioned that you didn't think that Riley would be getting a really harsh sentence, but would you say that's because of her family connections, or is it just the nature of the crime?
"There's certainly an advantage to being from a well-known, well-connected family in the sense that you have access to resources and potentially access to influential people."-GBH Legal Analyst Daniel Medwed
Medwed: Mainly the nature of the crime, Paris. Given what we know about this incident, I think there's going to be a lot of he said, she said debate from competing eyewitness accounts about what went down. It appears as though this might have been a resisting arrest gone awry in terms of the assault charge, and it might be hard for the prosecution to prove what's called a culpable mental state, that she intended or was reckless in causing injury to the officer. That might be a challenge. Also, my impression is that a lot of these vandalism or defacement of property cases are often resolved without prison time, again, depending on the criminal record, and I just don't know what Riley Dowell's record happens to be. A lot of these cases are resolved through plea bargains for a negotiated sentence. That's a fraction of the maximum.
Siegel: Can family connections play into a court case like this at all? I mean, Paris asked about the possibility of a lesser sentence or charge because of her family connections. Could they be an advantage, or could they even be a disadvantage in court?
Medwed: That's an interesting question, Jeremy. So I think on the one hand, there's certainly an advantage to being from a well-known, well-connected family in the sense that you have access to resources and potentially access to influential people. In fact, yesterday at BMC, Dowell was flanked by two very well-regarded private criminal defense attorneys in the greater Boston area. But on the other hand, of course, with fame comes media attention. And that media attention could put some pressure on the prosecution to not be perceived as being lenient or soft on someone from a prominent family. And that could affect how the case proceeds, the trajectory of the litigation. So I think it's really a mixed bag, and it's hard to predict.
"Of course, with fame comes media attention. And that media attention could put some pressure on the prosecution to not be perceived as being lenient or soft on someone from a prominent family."-GBH Legal Analyst Daniel Medwed
Alston: So of course, Daniel, there is sort of a voyeuristic element to this, right? I think on the one hand, there may be people who are watching and honestly, maybe relishing in the fact that a politician's family member is getting into trouble. Sometimes we see that when we see high-profile celebrities getting into trouble, and people make mockery of that. But I'm curious about what makes this different and why we care about these things so much, and how do we compare this to other similar cases that may have happened in recent years? I mean, I know Drew Barrymore, for instance, being the great niece of Lionel, got in trouble when she was younger.
Medwed: Well, that's right. I think you mentioned it, Paris. I think there's a voyeuristic element to it, which is we know Representative Katherine Clark. And hearing about this in the family, there's a salacious aspect to it, which is really unappealing. But it's newsworthy, of course, because of the political dimension here. The case that comes to mind, I think, as the most directly comparable is an incident involving Andrew A.J. Baker, the son of former Governor Charlie Baker, who back in June 2018 was accused of groping a woman on a JetBlue airline that landed at Logan. And it was such a high-profile incident, or seemingly egregious incident, that the police were summoned to the tarmac to meet the plane. And the Massachusetts State Police made the initial encounter. But because of the Federal Aviation Authority, the airports are under federal control, a lot of in-flight assaults are actually investigated by the feds. So this case was handed over to the U.S. Attorney's Office, which did prevent a conflict of interest, if this case were handed over to the state prosecutors.
Siegel: Did anything ever happen with that case?
Medwed: As far as I can tell, nothing has happened in the intervening four and a half years. Most federal crimes have a five-year statute of limitations. So if my math is correct, and I'm not sure it is because if I had been good at math, I would have gone to med school like my mom wanted me to. But I think we should know by June whether the statute of limitations has expired. I think at this late date, it's unlikely that he'll face charges.