The struggle against conditions on the Mass/Cass corridor has reached Gov. Charlie Baker’s driveway, and Baker’s wife, Lauren, won an unusual battle against one Mass/Cass activist on Monday when a state judge granted her request to bar Domingos DaRosa from coming near her home until 2021.
The scene was Lynn District Court on Monday morning, where Judge Matthew Nestor, a court clerk and a court officer faced an empty courtroom and a phone line full of anxious people – as the governor’s wife squared off against activists from Mass/Cass who had deposited used syringes found on South End streets and stoops on the sidewalk in front of the governor’s home. The needle dump has been an ongoing protest strategy to get Gov. Baker to take more action on the spiraling situation in the South End.
After a more than two hours of argument and testimony on what is usually a routine order for harassment, Judge Nestor ruled in favor of Lauren Baker – saying essentially the First Amendment right to protest does not include dumping used needles, a biohazard, on the street.
“The right to protest what we do not agree with does not mean one has the right to engage in these illegal acts,” said Nestor at the conclusion, quite matter or factly, before exiting the courtroom. “You can’t deposit dirty, used drug needles directly in front of someone’s home. The acts were clearly designed to intimidate and put fear in the defendant (Lauren Baker).”
He ordered that DaRosa, a Hyde Park resident who is the coach of the Clifford Park-based Boston Bengals Pop Warner football team, to stay 100 yards away from the Baker home until October 19, 2021 – one year from the day of the hearing.
DaRosa’s attorney, Anthony Ellison, said there were some striking errors in the decision. First, he said, by rule of law the defendant has to demonstrate three occurrences. He said Baker’s lawyer, Kevin Mitchell, only demonstrated one occurrence, with a second occurrence not attributed to DaRosa and a third occurrence cited as only the stated intention of DaRosa to keep protesting in Swamp-scott.
He said they will appeal.
“I respect Judge Nestor, but I think he made an error in process and an error in the law,” said Ellison after the decision. “We will appeal it and I believe it will be flipped on appeal. This boils down to those that have and those that do not. Shame on Gov. Baker and shame on Lauren Baker for using the courts to shut down 1st Amendment Freedoms of Speech. No one went on anyone’s property. This was done on public property, on a public sidewalk, as a form of protest. I believe the judge was straight-up wrong here.”
Mitchell told the judge that DaRosa’s activities at the protest, and on videos during protests in the South End, showed willful and malicious conduct.
“He dumped them there on (October) 2nd,” said Mitchell. “I think the clear evidence on video shows he was collecting more and took some from a person that came up to him…and the purpose was to put more of the (needles) down. That is willful. I suppose it is also malicious. What we have is by his own submission you have him acknowledge that he wanted the governor to feel the same as they felt and it was at the family home. It was the intent to affect someone more than politically but to affect viscerally with this individual.”
The highlight of the morning, however, was the testimony of Lauren Baker over the telephone in court. Though there have been dozens of protests at the governor’s home over the past several months, Baker said this protest made her fearful, and especially after State Police details told her that dirty needles were left on the sidewalk in front of the Baker home in Swampscott by the group of about 15 protestors. She said she did not see the needles placed there personally.
“I was afraid because I didn’t know what they were going to do,” said Baker. “I’m afraid they will continue to bring more and the needles and stuff frightens me because I don’t want to hurt neighbors or my family or friends. I’m fearful they will come back and want to take further action.”
She said she understood the protests to be about getting access to her husband or getting his attention regarding the situation on Mass/Cass, or “Methadone Mile,” as Baker said.
At one point Baker said the protests “forced” her to stay in her home, even though she said there were six State Troopers at the home to protect her.
“Did anyone force you to stay?” asked Ellison.
“No,” said Baker.
“Did you attempt to leave?” asked Ellison.
“No,” said Baker.
“So no one told you that you couldn’t leave?” asked Ellison.
“I did not feel it was safe for me or anyone in my family to go outside when these people were outside my home,” said Baker.
“Even with six State Troopers there?” asked Ellison.
“Even with six State Troopers,” said Baker.
State Trooper Curtis Cinelli said they did investigate the matter and advised Baker to apply for a harassment order. That order was granted temporarily and served to DaRosa on Oct. 8 at his Hyde Park home, a moment that was captured on video and reported in other media outlets.
Cinelli said they continued their investigation of DaRosa looking at his Facebook videos made at several protests and events with the South End Roxbury Community Partnership – a group that has public forums with City and state politicians and marches once a week in the South End.
DaRosa testified that his intent was to be respectful during all of the protests, but the group had decided to use needles as props to make a point to Gov. Baker about the conditions on Mass/Cass, and perhaps stoke him to take some action. He said he consulted with State Police on site when they arrived to make sure the group knew the boundaries, and they never entered private property, and when putting the needles on the public sidewalk, they did put cones down to prevent anyone from walking on them. They did, he said, decide not to remove them from the sidewalk when they left, even though State Police asked them to do so.
He said the protest and the needles were in no way directed at Lauren Baker, but the group has a long-standing desire to get Gov. Baker more involved in the solution on Mass/Cass.
“It wasn’t in reference to the family and she would not be the subject,” he said. “The goal of the needles was to get the attention of the governor so he would address the public health crisis we face in Massachusetts.”
In the end, though, Judge Nestor – who was appointed in the early 2000s to Somerville District Court by then-Gov. Mitt Romney – and concluded that dumping a biohazardous material like dirty needles in front of a home is not protected speech and constituted harassment. Estimates by the City of Boston are that some 20,000 used needles are picked up in the South End neighborhoods on a yearly basis, though some have said there are more. The Mass/Cass dashboard kept by the City of Boston shows the