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Rollins takes reins at U.S. attorney office

Violent crime, health care fraud, police misconduct will be among priorities

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
Rollins takes reins at U.S. attorney office
US Attorney Rachael Rollins speaks with reporters during a roundtable at the Moakley Federal Courthouse on Jan. 13. PHOTO: ANGELA ROWLINGS

After a contentious confirmation process, during which GOP lawmakers fought her appointment, Rachael Rollins made history on Jan. 10 when she was sworn in as U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, the first Black woman to hold that position.

While she was opposed by Republicans who voiced objections to the progressive stands she took during her three years as Suffolk County district attorney, she told reporters during a roundtable discussion last Thursday that she wears the label with pride.

“I’m proud of being called a progressive,” she said. “Being a progressive to me just means thinking differently about things.”

During her years as district attorney, that meant shifting resources away from prosecuting misdemeanor offenses and putting more attention on violent crimes. While Rollins drew fire from police unions for that shift, she said the change made sense, given what she says was a 67% recidivism rate for people convicted of the 15 misdemeanor crimes she directed her staff to cease prosecuting.

“If you were making cars and your cars were failing 67% of the time, you’d be out of business,” she said.

Rollins noted that the murder rate declined for two out of the three years she was in office, despite a national trend of rising murders in U.S. cities during that same period.

As the top law enforcement official in Massachusetts, Rollins said she will approach her job with the same eye for reform, while tackling issues such as human trafficking, violent crime, health care fraud and police misconduct.

“We have the ability, with the resources of the federal government, to dig deep ­— to put resources into multi-jurisdictional investigations that can take months or years,” she said.

If her record in the Suffolk County office is any indicator, Rollins isn’t likely to back down from politically contentious issues.

Asked for her reaction to a recent jury decision clearing a Springfield Police detective of charges he punched and kicked three teens suspected of car theft in 2016, Rollins said that while she respects the legal process that led to the verdict, she remains committed to pursuing cases of police abuse.

“I wonder if we’re not desensitized to police violence,” she said of the jury verdict. “We have to hold law enforcement to the highest standard.”

Springfield’s police department, which has in recent years been wracked by instances of corruption and abuse, was the only department in the country to have a pattern or practice investigation undertaken against it by the Department of Justice during the four years of the Trump administration.

In July of 2020, the Justice Department found reasonable cause to believe the Springfield Police Department’s Narcotics Bureau’s pattern of practice of excessive force was directly attributable to systems that do not provide meaningful review of uses of force.

Rollins said she expects that her office will also tackle health care fraud, noting that First Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Levy acquired extensive experience litigating in the areas of pharmaceutical, medical device and health information technology while working at the white-shoe firm Ropes & Gray.

“There’s billions of money coursing through the health care field,” Levy told reporters at the roundtable. “It’s ripe for abuse.”

Asked to reflect her record in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, Rollins said she was most proud of the reductions in violent crime, the creation of a police integrity review board that investigated allegations of police misconduct, a discharge integrity review board that investigated police shootings and other reforms. Coupled with her shift away from prosecution of nonviolent offenses, Rollins said the reforms have created a model for her work as U.S. attorney.

“We have a proof-of-concept in Suffolk County that I want to bring to scale in the rest of the commonwealth,” she said.

Asked how she will work with U.S. immigration officials, Rollins noted that she was one of two district attorneys in Massachusetts who filed preliminary injunctions against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but also said the Biden administration has made changes to the federal agency. She said that as U.S. attorney, she will defend ICE when it is sued.

Rollins, whose request for protection from the U.S. Marshal Service was denied, says she has been the frequent target of hate mail via social media.

“People feel emboldened online,” she said. “People would not say many of the things they say if they saw you on the street.”

She says she’s not focused on the hate directed at her, however.

“I get so many positive and uplifting messages from people,” she told reporters.

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