Meet Suffolk County’s interim DA, Kevin Hayden
Interim Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden is still deciding whether he will seek election to win the office outright.
The question, Hayden told GBH News in a recent interview, is “perfectly understandable.” He says an answer will be coming soon.
“Having just gotten here…I’ve still got a lot to get into, a lot to learn, a lot to understand and I will make that decision quickly, but I haven’t made it yet,” said Hayden, 53, about the prospect of running.
Hayden worked in the Suffolk County DA’s office as an assistant district attorney from 1997 to 2008, under Ralph Martin, then Dan Conley.
He left to work in criminal defense. Then, in 2015, Gov. Charlie Baker appointed him to his most recent job: chairing the Sex Offender Registry Board.
Baker tapped Hayden to lead the Suffolk Co. DA’s office earlier this month to fill the opening left by now-U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins, who officially took office last week.
Since then, Hayden has barely had enough time to add personal touches beyond a few coats and a coffee cup to the office space, but he is pledging to focus on removing illegal guns off streets and boost the office’s community engagement.
If Hayden does launch a campaign, it would be his first time as a candidate for public office, he said.
Hayden also spoke about his belief in redemption, particularly for young people, through alternative accountability measures and said he is still deciding what to do about his predecessor’s list of 15 low-level offenses for which the default is to decline prosecution.
Here are some other highlights from his interview with GBH News:
How does it feel to be back where you started your career?
Surreal. Amazing. Awesome. I’m coming home. I was here for 11 years. It’s great to be back. And it’s not just great to be back because it’s home, but it’s why it’s home, right? This is an incredible office and a lot of great people that do a lot of good work and make a real difference for people, and the opportunity to come back to that is fantastic.
Is it accurate to describe you as a “progressive” prosecutor, like USA Rollins?
I think that I have some very progressive beliefs, and I think I have some that are moderate. I don’t know if I have too many that are conservative.
I think the position of a district attorney, when it’s an elected one, is very unique. It’s different than being the mayor or member of the House of Representatives because we work within a criminal legal system where we have to take cases on a case-by-case basis. We have to take humans and their cases right where they are and do the best we can to administer justice. So, I often feel like labels — political labels — can be a little challenging for this particular role.
What’s changed in the criminal justice system since your first days as a prosecutor?
Quite a bit. That cell phone you’re holding in your hand right now is a huge change. All of technology has had an incredible impact on our world and our criminal legal system. From a law enforcement standpoint, body cameras, automatic discovery — with regards to information involving the police and automatic discovery. Whole different paradigm from when I was here.
There’s been a variety of legal changes, too, right? There have been a variety of decisions and changes in the court that change how we do things. … So, the business of prosecution is different than when I was an ADA.
You mean to focus on illegal guns while in office, why?
I don’t think I’ve spoken to a person yet, whether it’s someone in the community, whether it’s justices or people here in this office, that haven’t told me that illegal guns on our streets is a concern. It was a concern when I was here before. It sounds very much like it’s a real concern now, and I think it’s important to address.
To what degree, if any, does Beacon Hill’s failure to resolve the question of qualified immunity for police compromise Massachusetts’ efforts to reform police?
Qualified immunity is ultimately, as you inferred, going to be a legislative decision. Qualified immunity a complicated issue — a complicated issue, generally, also a complicated issue. legally — and [that’s] exactly why everyone wonders, you know, sort of how it’s all going to pan out and what’s going to happen. But, when you talk about people being able to do their jobs and do it in good faith and reasonably without having to worry, I think that’s an important thing.
You’ve worked as a prosecutor for 10 years in the office you now lead, and you’ve spent many years working with young people. What have those two experiences taught you that will help you succeed in your new job?
I believe in the power of redemption. I believe in every human being’s ability to change and to evolve, hopefully for the better. That’s, in large part, why I really enjoyed doing a practice here and in the District Attorney’s office that dealt with juveniles. Younger is a little easier to influence.
I think that’s the reason why, when we talk about diversion and when we talk about different accountability measures short of incarceration, in terms of more typical ways that people think about in terms of punishment, we talk about alternatives to accountability, juveniles and how they’re treated as kind of led the way.
And my dealings with juveniles was not just as a prosecutor, it was as a criminal defense attorney, too. I did a lot of representation of juveniles when I was on the criminal defense side. In fact, I went specifically onto the list with CPS [child protective services] to take juvenile appointments because one of things I learned in private practice was that if I wanted to do juvenile cases — and I did — I wasn’t going to get them by private appointment because they couldn’t necessarily afford an attorney. Most juveniles are deemed an indigent right off the bat. So, I purposely went to do court appointments so I could do juvenile cases, and I’ve always enjoyed that area.
In keeping with the topic of diversion, what did you think of former DA Rachael Rollins’ policy memo and “do not prosecute” list?
I’m very familiar with it and also very familiar with practices of this office previously and also other district attorneys’ offices across this state in terms of how to deal with an array of accountability measures.
It’s something that’s always been done and how we will address the diaspora of accountability measures that we’ll employ in cases and the “do not prosecute” list and those sorts of things is something that we’re thinking about and working through.
I’ve got a lot to learn there. A lot has changed. My worldview has changed in terms of how this office should operate, and a lot has changed in this office since I left in 2008. So those are all things that I’m working hard at getting up to speed on it.
It sounds like you’re still deciding what to do about the “=”do not prosecute”=” list?
I have more to learn. I’m not sure if it’s so much about what to do about it. Part of the thing I think a lot of people need to understand about the “do not prosecute” list is that it was never absolute, even in the Rollins administration.
My understanding is that approximately 25 percent of the cases that were on that “do not prosecute” list were actually prosecuted by the prior administration. So, it’s really more a question of how do you employ and how do you activate the full array of accountability measures that you can do on a case-by-case basis for every situation because every situation is different and you have to look at that as such.
There are posts circulating on social media alleging a dismantling of the innovation and strategy portion of this office. What’s going on there?
I’m assuming you’re referring to the Twitter [thread] from a former employee here. I don’t think it’s my place to necessarily speak about employee matters, and they’re confidential, and I think it would be inappropriate to mention any details.
I am familiar with what you’re talking about. What I can tell you is that individual wasn’t here when I got here. Didn’t have an office, wasn’t on the org chart, wasn’t on the phone list.
I can’t tell you what the prior administration decided.
It sounds like you don’t have any plans to alter any of what that person was working on.
No, not at all. In fact, we intend to see all of that through to the best of our ability. Does that mean we’re going to do every bit of it? I don’t know yet because I still have so much to learn about it.
If you could give Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s police commissioner search committee a bit of advice what would it be?
Probably not any advice she hasn’t already been given. Work hard and stay committed to making a difference for this entire community.
In terms of police, I’ll let that committee do their job without trying to put my stamp on it all. I’ll honor and respect whatever they decide and work closely with whoever it is.
What else do you want people to know about your time occupying this office?
I want them to hopefully see that that I’m the best man for the for this job at this particular time, and I want them to know that I feel confident that when they look back at what I’ve done, whether it’s three months from now or eight months from now or three years from now, that they’ll say, “Yeah, that guy really cared, really understood the community, was really engaged with the community and did everything he could to ensure public safety while simultaneously ensuring that our criminal legal system is fair and just and equitable for everybody.”
Saraya Wintersmith covers Boston City Hall for GBH News.