In heated debate, Arroyo and Hayden address ‘elephant in the room’

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The Democratic candidates for Suffolk County District Attorney have been mired in controversy this election season.

Ricardo Arroyo (left) and Kevin Hayden are facing off in the Democratic primary race for Suffolk County District Attorney on Sept. 6. Erin Clark/Boston Globe

As controversy continues to surround the Democratic primary race for Suffolk County District Attorney, the two candidates took to the debate stage Wednesday night at Morning Star Baptist Church in Mattapan. Both Kevin Hayden and Ricardo Arroyo were the subject of loud jeers and cheers as they answered questions posed by moderator Jon Keller. 

The debate began with, as Keller put it, “the elephant in the room.” For Arroyo, a current Boston City Councilor, this meant the sexual assault allegations against him that came to light in a Boston Globe story last week. The allegations were made by two different teenage girls, one in 2005 and the other in 2007, according to the Globe. The cases were investigated separately, and neither led to charges. 

Since then Arroyo has denied any wrongdoing. He said he was never questioned by authorities about the allegations, and was not aware of them until this month. Police records state that Arroyo was questioned by officers at the time, according to the Globe

Hayden, the current Suffolk DA, was the subject of another notable Globe investigation. That story centered on a coverup by Transit Police officers and questions about Hayden’s reported reluctance to pursue a case against the offending officers. 

Both Hayden and Arroyo brought up these controversies when asked by Keller about their opponent’s character. 

Hayden said that the allegations against Arroyo should disqualify him from the race, and that voters must ultimately determine whether he has the moral character to hold the office of District Attorney. 

Arroyo should be further questioned because he has repeatedly lied, Hayden said, about his knowledge of the sexual assault investigations. 

Hayden referenced a Globe piece from Tuesday, where the paper interviewed one of the women who made allegations against Arroyo.

“All of the allegations with regards to Mr. Arroyo being untruthful are uncontroverted. They can’t be denied. It is clear from what the second victim has come forward with… that there’s no way that he did not know about these allegations,” Hayden said. 

The victim in the 2005 case told the paper that Arroyo sent threats to her, coerced sex out of her, and mentally manipulated her. She described the relationship as “traumatic.” 

After the allegations first surfaced, Arroyo appeared at a press conference with an attorney representing the woman from the 2007 case. Through the attorney, that woman suggested that the documents about these cases were leaked as a political hit job, said that Arroyo never assaulted her, and that she endorsed Arroyo. 

When asked about Hayden’s character, Arroyo said that his opponent was lacking because he received money from an officer under investigation, and that Hayden’s second in command made guarantees that the case against the officer would be closed. That second in command is still in Hayden’s office, Arroyo added. 

He said that Hayden did not assign a prosecutor to the case quickly enough after assuming the DA’s office from Rachael Rollins. 

“To date there has been no sanction or penalty for that second in command,” Arroyo said. “Kevin Hayden has not opened up a special prosecutor list. Mr. Leonor, who was the victim of this police misconduct case, right here in Mattapan, asked for a special prosecutor list. The Transit Police asked for a special prosecutor. There was not one appointed.”

Keller was forced to interrupt the candidates multiple times during the debate in order to settle down the crowd. 

Earlier on Wednesday, a City Council meeting turned chaotic as councilors and members of the public voiced their opinions on the allegations against Arroyo. Council President Ed Flynn was forced to close the meeting to the public, but a scuffle ensued in the hallway outside the council chambers. Police and security had to physically restrain some members of the public, and one person was placed in handcuffs, according to the Globe.  

This week, Flynn stripped Arroyo of his council vice presidency and a pair of committee chairmanships after rescinding his endorsement of Arroyo. 

Also on Wednesday, big names like Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey, and Representative Ayanna Pressley rescinded their endorsements of Arroyo. 

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