Justice Department closes inquiry into civil rights violations here

Leader Herald Staff

A year-long inquiry launched by former US attorney Rachael Rollins into allegations of possible civil rights violations by Everett officials has been closed and no federal charges will be brought, according to a statement by Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria, as reported in the Boston Globe.

In an Aug. 8 letter to lawyers for DeMaria and the city, federal prosecutors wrote that they were closing the “preliminary inquiry” that had been launched in June 2022 into “multiple allegations of racial discrimination, gender discrimination and sexual harassment by City employees,” the Globe reported.

In an apparent reference to discrimination complaints brought by current and former city employees, the letter said, “The closure of our inquiry has no impact on any claims that have been or may be filed with any state or federal court or administrative agency,” the Globe reported.

The one-paragraph letter, which offered no details about the results of the inquiry, was shared with the Globe by one of DeMaria’s lawyers and was first reported by the Boston Herald and Everett Advocate, according to the Boston Globe.

“We cooperated fully throughout the course of this inquiry,” DeMaria said in a statement. “I am pleased that the matter has been closed, but I am not surprised by the outcome,” the Globe reported.

A spokesperson for the US attorney’s office declined to comment Friday on the inquiry. But George Regan, a public relations executive who represents DeMaria, called it “a witch hunt” by Rollins, who resigned in May after two federal watchdogs found that she misused the power of her office and violated ethics rules,” the Globe reported.

“This whole exercise was a total waste of time, money, and effort,” Regan said of the Everett inquiry. “It was also politically motivated by a US attorney who never grew into the job.”

The US Inspector General’s Office cited the Everett civil rights inquiry in its May report detailing alleged misconduct by Rollins. It found that she sent a letter to DeMaria in June 2022 notifying him that she was launching an investigation into possible civil rights violations by city officials, then leaked it to a Globe associate editor in violation of Justice Department rules relating to contact with the media. The Globe reported on the probe at the time, according to the Boston Globe.

At the time, Rollins cited a series of racist and racially charged incidents. Among them was a leaked recording of a private Zoom meeting showing several city officials joking about recruiting Black people to public events to insulate themselves politically against charges of racism. The mayor’s spokesperson, Deanna Deveney, asked City Councilor Anthony DiPierro to recruit “one of your dark friends” for a political event, the Globe reported.

“I don’t have a lot of those friends, I’m just saying,” DiPierro responded, according to the Globe.

Deveney and DiPierro, who is related to the mayor, both resigned a week before Rollins launched the inquiry amid a public backlash and a writ- ten warning by the city’s director of diversity, equity, and inclusion that, by not taking action, the city could be considered a hostile work environment and exposed to legal action, the Globe reported.

Rollins directed the city to turn over a host of documents detailing policies as well as all complaints of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation dating back to 2018 — regardless of how the city had resolved them, the Globe reported.

The city was also told to preserve other records that could be relevant to the investigation, whether they had been specifically requested or not, and not to alter or destroy computer records, according to the Globe.

Rollins’s inquiry was based on Title VII, the federal statute that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, gender, sex, and other factors, accord- ing to the city’s lawyers, the Globe reported.

In a statement, DeMaria said the city was committed to a full and fair inquiry and retained outside counsel to conduct an internal review of the allegations and to assist in the inquiry, according to the Globe.

“Our commitment to ensuring that we are an ‘Everett for Everyone’ began before this inquiry was opened and that work continues,” DeMaria said “We will continue to find ways to bring residents together to celebrate the diverse cultures that make our community special, as well as continue with our teachings and trainings dedicated to providing our residents and also our employees with a city government that is accessible, respectful and culturally sensitive,” the Globe reported.

Attorney Jeffrey Robbins, who represents DeMaria in a pending defamation suit filed by the mayor against a local newspaper, said Friday that DeMaria and others in City Hall didn’t believe there was any basis for Rollins to launch a federal inquiry, the Globe reported.

“I think the mayor felt the language used by the individuals at that [Zoom] session was disgraceful,” Robbins said. “But that disgusting conduct and language on the part of a couple of individuals is different than labeling an entire city or an entire City Hall as discriminatory,” the Globe reported.

But Everett has faced a series of complaints involving discrimination, sexual harassment, and assault involving employees, the Globe reported.

Former Everett schools superintendent Frederick F. Foresteire was convicted in February of indecent assault and battery on three women who worked for him and sentenced to 90 days in jail. But the 79-year-old was released after serving only three weeks and allowed to remain free while appealing his conviction,” the Globe reported.

Three female school administrators who succeeded Foresteire have filed discrimination complaints against DeMaria, the city, and the schools, according to the Boston Globe.

A lawsuit alleging discrimination based on gender, color, national origin, and retaliation brought by Superintendent Priya Tahiliani and Deputy Superintendent Kim Tsai is pending in federal court in Boston, the Globe reported.

Tahiliani, who was named superintendent in December 2019, alleges that DeMaria and several committee members prepared to oust her, despite positive performance reviews, because she is a woman of color. Her contract has not been renewed after the end of the coming school year, the Globe reported.

Tsai, who identifies herself in her complaint as one of the only Asian and Pacific Islander deputy superintendents in the state, was recruited by Tahiliani, the Globe reported.

Attorney Benjamin Flam, who represents Tahiliani and Tsai, said it was not surprising that the US attorney’s office had closed its inquiry into Everett, given the circumstances of Rollins’s resignation. But he said it wouldn’t impact the civil suit brought by his clients, according to the Globe.

“We certainly believe that there is systemic discrimination and retaliation in Everett,” Flam said. “We hope to vindicate Ms. Tahiliani and Ms. Tsai and we hope to let some light shine into dark corners here,” the Globe reported.

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