We Should Be Ashamed Of Ourselves’: DA Rollins Vows To Look Into Officers At The Heart Of The Sean Ellis Case

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Rachael Rollins addresses the audience after she was sworn in as the new Suffolk County District Attorney at the Roxbury Community College Media Arts Center in Boston on Jan. 2, 2019.

By Zoe Mathews April 2, 2021Boston Public Radio

Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins has filed a motion for a new trial with the intent to dismiss a weapons charge against Sean Ellis, whose conviction in the 1993 murder of police detective John Mulligan was overturned in 2015.

Ellis, who spent more than 22 years behind bars, still has a weapons conviction on his record in relation to the case. Rollin’s motion is an attempt to wipe the slate clean for Ellis.

Rollins told Boston Public Radio on Friday she intends to look into criminality of the police officers involved in Ellis’ arrest.

“I am no longer going to waste any of my office’s limited resources and time defending such egregious criminal conduct, hard stop,” she said. “It’s more to me, about the fact that everyone knew about [the corruption of officers involved]. There wasn’t a single person that didn’t know these cops were dirty, and they were flagrant with respect to what they were doing.”

Two of the three detectives at the helm of the investigation later pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges. The third was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony.

“This is a significant miscarriage of justice. We should be ashamed of ourselves. We did not hold these men accountable for the extensive harm they committed,” she said. “We’re going to be looking into them with the criminal defense bar to see if what they did was even more significant.”

Rollins noted Ellis’ case shows a failure within the Boston Police department as well as the District Attorney’s office.

As GBH News previously reported, Rollins’ stance on the case has been criticized by members of the Boston Police Department and even some assistant prosecutors on her staff.

Rollins noted that when previous district attorneys like Ralph Martin and Dan Connelly vowed to look into the wrongdoing of these officers, they were “lauded” and accepted as righting wrongs, but now that she is looking into the case “people are questioning” her.

“What is it about me that’s so different than those people I just mentioned, I’ll wait,” she said. Rollins is the first Black woman to be elected as the Suffolk District Attorney.

Rollins has faced backlash from the law enforcement establishment since she was elected in 2018 on a progressive platform. She vowed not to prosecute low-level nonviolent offenses, which critics claimed would result in an increase in crime.

Just last week, a study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research appeared to vindicate her policies, showing that they might actually be reducing future crimes by those same defendants.

“When we choose not to prosecute low level, non-violent nonserious crimes in the first instance, very frequently people don’t come back into contact with the criminal legal system. They do not recidivate,” she said. “We’re talking about people that overwhelmingly have substance abuse disorders, food and housing insecurities, and mental health issues,”

Read More: Rollins’ Policy Of Avoiding Prosecution Of Low-Level Offenses May Be Reducing Future Crimes

While Rollins said researchers didn’t examine the theory behind the numbers, she speculated that a fear of having to go through the legal system again may have been enough motivation to convince people not to re-commit crimes.

Rollins also discussed the potential for her to become the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, a position soon to be vacated by Trump appointee Andrew Lelling, but declined to say whether she has be to Washington, D.C., for an interview.

In December, the Globe reported that Rollins along with two other women who work in the U.S. Attorney’s office and a man who previously served as a former assistant U.S. attorney were finalists for the position.

The Commonwealth will also be well served if any of the three women are appointed, Rollins said.

“It’ll be a woman of color, hopefully, that is leading the U.S. Attorney’s office,” she added.