Conan Harris, the husband of Representative Ayanna Pressley, was driving his wife and daughter to Logan International Airport in March when he was stopped by a State Police trooper and charged with driving on a suspended license.
He was scheduled for arraignment in East Boston Municipal Court on May 13 but didn’t show up. Even so, prosecutors dismissed the charge.
Harris didn’t realize it, but he had directly benefited from Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins’s pledge to stop enforcement of 15 “low-level” offenses, including driving without a valid license.
And Harris said he appreciated what the new district attorney is doing.
“These low-level charges are clogging the criminal justice system,” said Harris, who praised Rollins for dismissing charges before they appear on a person’s criminal record.
At the time he was stopped, Harris said, he didn’t know his license had been suspended six days earlier for failing to pay a traffic citation.
“I was flabbergasted,” said Harris, adding that he immediately paid the civil fine and had his license reinstated the next day.
Harris said he didn’t show up for his arraignment because he had recently moved and didn’t get the summons to appear until afterward. When Harris received the summons, he said, he rushed to the courthouse and was told the case had been dismissed.
Rollins said she didn’t even know about Harris’s case until the Globe asked about it and that he didn’t receive any special treatment. A Globe review showed that his case was handled the same way as dozens of other motor vehicle offenses that Rollins has said she will not prosecute.
However, a Globe review of more than 1,000 criminal cases filed in district courts since January shows that some of the motor vehicle cases being dropped by Rollins’s office involve allegations more serious than those against Harris, including accidents resulting in injuries and people who are repeatedly stopped for driving without licenses or insurance.
For example, Wilmer Salgado-Gonzalez, 34, of Chelsea, was driving without a license when he collided with another car in Revere in January. An 11-year-old boy in the back seat struck his head on the window and had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance. Still, prosecutors dropped the case under Rollins’s policy. Salgado-Gonzalez told the Globe the other driver was at fault.
Rollins said the public needs to understand that black and brown people are far more likely to be cited for motor vehicle infractions and that has to be considered by prosecutors.
“Not to say [traffic laws] aren’t important things at all, but we are going to look at these disparities and say, ‘Why is that?’ If, overwhelmingly, it’s about paying a fine or a fee, to me that’s criminalizing poverty,” Rollins said.Shelley Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Andrea Estes can be reached at email@example.com