Shannon McMahon, a trial attorney and former employee of the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office, is running for Bristol DA against longtime incumbent Thomas M. Quinn III. Quinn is seeking a third term, and for the first time is running opposed.
The Light asked both McMahon and Quinn the same questions. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
What are the most pressing public safety issues Bristol County is facing at this time, and how do you plan on addressing them?
Obviously, the drug crisis is an enormous problem right now. We’ve got people trafficking in fentanyl, methamphetamine now and heroin … We’ve got a large uptick in gun violence right now, which is a huge problem. And we also have a lot of abuse to our seniors, to our children, sexual assault, a lot of domestic violence cases, especially post-COVID, where a lot of people were kind of locked in together …
Things we can do about that are obviously the recovery court, expand that recovery court, that way we can get people who are addicted and who are using, the treatment that they need, which takes off that backlog from the court post-COVID, and then it frees up the district attorney’s office to actually go after the dealers. And I don’t think they’ve been tough enough on the dealers and the people who are trafficking. Those people need to be indicted. They need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent, because they’re killing our families, they’re killing our children in astronomical numbers. They’re killing our friends, our neighbors … You can’t treat everybody the same. And the current administration is treating users and dealers the same. And so everyone’s kind of getting this treatment, whereas if we get the user’s help and go out to the dealers, we can put all of our efforts into this.
I think we need to be tougher on the illegal gun crimes … And I think again, with the mental health court, with that kind of component, we can actually deal with some of these issues and identify who is capable of being rehabilitated and who is not. In terms of the abuse victims that are out there, we need to do better with our victim witness advocates, because they’re kind of the first line of defense with the DA’s office … We need to get them some more help because there are just far too many cases for them to give as much attention to the victims that is probably needed … Right now the current office is very top-heavy … We can take some of that top-heaviness and put it in other places, like a grant writer position, so we stop missing out on grant dollars that we could have and putting some money into the victim witness advocates so we can get more bodies in there, more training in there.
Massachusetts is the only state in the country that conducts show cause hearings, which are closed-door hearings, where a person has not been arrested, but law enforcement is seeking a charge. There were two local, recent high-profile cases: City Councilor Hugh Dunn and the Southcoast Health CEO Keith Hovan. Bills have died in the Legislature seeking to make these hearings presumptively open. Supporters say this is for transparency and accountability. Do you support that legislation, and do you believe that these hearings should be open to the public?
That’s a difficult question. Part of me thinks that they should be open to the public, and part of me thinks that they shouldn’t … Obviously, we want things to be out in the public, but we want to make sure that there’s enough evidence there to put somebody through that. So it’s got to be taken [on a] case-by-case basis, to be perfectly frank. Obviously the role of the DA is going to be to follow the statute, follow the Legislature. I would try certainly not to cause anyone embarrassment or harm, and I think that’s kind of the point, is to protect rights of people who, there wasn’t enough to basically arrest. So it’s a difficult balance … I would be more on the side of how it currently is. For example, if there’s a public person who is charged with a crime, maybe it’s in the best interest for the public to have knowledge of that. But I do think that the burden should stay where it is.
The New Bedford Light and other media have reported on crisis pregnancy centers and problems they might present to people. In July, AG Maura Healey issued a consumer warning about these centers and their deceptive practices, and told people to contact the civil rights office if they’re concerned about their experiences. Gov. Charlie Baker also signed into law abortion legislation and an executive order that would keep executive offices from assisting law enforcement from out of state if they want to prosecute. If elected, would your office prosecute any local cases where there could be civil rights violations by these centers? And would your office commit to not assisting other states in their investigations into abortions?
I’m emphatically pro-choice. I was very happy to see Charlie Baker sign that bill. I think that the DA’s office, the current administration, is not pro-choice, they’re anti-choice. And that national petition that went around where district attorneys from red and blue states, many from Massachusetts, Maura Healey signed it, vowing not to prosecute those who performed abortions, those who sought abortions, those who aided in someone else getting an abortion… Tom Quinn refused to sign that petition. I think that’s important, first and foremost. He claimed in the debate it’s not a big deal. I beg to differ … these laws can be changed very fluidly now … it is imperative that voters ask their elected officials where they stand on Roe, because at some point down the line, they may have that power to prosecute women or people who aid, procure, assist in the performance of an abortion from someone from outside. That is extremely dangerous, because at some point you could have a district attorney who is going to extradite a young woman for getting an abortion in Massachusetts for murder, and that’s frightening … And again, it’s because we no longer have that constitutionally guaranteed right …
The civil rights violations would probably be more the civil side of it. But certainly, if those deceptive practices turned criminal, I absolutely would prosecute. We have to protect our women right now. This is a very vulnerable stage … We can’t have people who are giving deceptive practices, giving misinformation, trying to convince women not to have abortions under the auspices of providing abortions. That can’t happen, and I would support personally and publicly that those stop immediately …
[On the joint statement on abortion:] Prosecutors have discretion in what they choose to prosecute, and we’re all standing up and saying we’re busy enough, we’re not doing this. We’re never going to do this.
Currently, Massachusetts has the lowest bar in the country, probable cause, required for law enforcement to seize cash or assets from people believed to be involved in a crime. The state Senate this June passed a bill that would raise the bar from probable cause to a preponderance of evidence. Under this bill, DAs would not be able to pursue forfeiture cases on amounts less than $250, and the bill would also establish a forfeiture tracking database. Do you think the current system of civil asset forfeiture has any issues? And do you agree with this Senate bill?
Again, it’s got to be a case-by-case basis because I know there’s a low standard. Do I think there’s kinks in it? Absolutely. But the danger in the bill that was written is that, I’m all for having a database about where the funds are going. And I think that’s important because I think that should be public knowledge, because without it, that leads to corruption, right? You can’t just have this stack of cash and no one knows what you’ve done with it. So I’m all for that portion of it. However, what I don’t want to see happen, and I believe this was in the original draft of the bill, is all of that forfeiture money would go into kind of a Massachusetts fund, and then it would be divvied out county by county … Sometimes Bristol County gets left in the dark, and I wouldn’t want to see that happen …
Aside from that, the rest of the bill, I certainly don’t mind raising the standard, I don’t mind all the rest of the details. But I think it’s imperative because the forfeiture money can be very useful to citizens of Bristol County. In the past, they’ve bought police cars, they’ve done certain things … I’d like to use the forfeiture money in the future, such as getting some police officers counseling after they’ve drawn their weapon … That would be a good use of forfeiture money, which is why I would really want the money that’s in Bristol County to stay in Bristol County …
There is no database right now, so there’s no big way to check it, there’s no check and balance. So I’m kind of OK with that. And I think that just keeps everyone on the straight and narrow about where the funds are going.
This summer in Suffolk County, there was a neo-Nazi group and a white supremacist group that demonstrated and marched, respectively, prompting U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins to launch a reporting hotline. Suffolk DA Kevin Hayden announced he would add two civil rights prosecutors to handle hate crimes due to recent incidents and activity anticipated around national elections. Is this something that’s happening in Bristol County or a threat in the coming months or years, and if elected, would your office do anything to prepare?
With the upcoming national election, who knows? It’s still too early to tell … The neo-Nazis tend to go more towards the Boston area than the Bristol County area, but God knows we have our own racist actions that happen here, sometimes by the police. But no, I believe ours is more an internal issue with racial inequality. And my opponent had indicated at the debate that he doesn’t believe that exists here in Bristol County, racial inequality. But I do, and I think that the only way to resolve that is to acknowledge it, accept it, and then you can identify it and fix the problem … If that ever did happen, absolutely. And that’s why you’ve gotta stay focused on the future and what’s happening so you can react, hopefully in advance of such an event. But if it happened, I would absolutely prosecute.
What is the last book you read?
I’m currently reading “Harry Potter” for like the 19th time. It helps me go to sleep at night after a long day of campaigning … When you deal with some of the negative stuff, especially with working, raising teenagers, sometimes you just need to escape and go into your own little happy place.
What’s your favorite meal to cook for family and friends?
I make a mean buffalo chicken egg roll. My kids love them, everybody loves them. Every party I go to, I have to bring them. And the irony is I can’t eat them, I have celiac disease. So I always make the chicken in a separate crock pot, and then make the egg rolls, so I keep some of the chicken aside for me.
What person gives you the most inspiration and why?
My mom. I never gave her enough credit. She went to school while raising four kids, and became a teacher and worked in an inner city school in East Providence in the middle school, which is a particularly tough age, especially with, a lot of those kids didn’t have parents. And she spent her entire career basically being not only a teacher, but a parent and friend to these kids. And she never gloated, she never bragged. And I hope that she’s proud of me.
What’s your favorite place on the South Coast and why?
There’s a ton. Ocean Grove Beach. It’s called Swansea Town Beach. It’s a very small beach. I live down the street from it, and sometimes we’ll just go there at night and just hop in the water and clear your thoughts.
Email Anastasia E. Lennon at alennon@NewBedfordLight.org.