Candidate at a glance

Thomas M. Quinn III
Fall River
Bristol County district attorney
State Sens. Marc Pacheco, Michael Rodrigues, Mark Montigny, Paul Feeney; State Reps. Carol Doherty, Carole Fiola, Patricia Haddad, Paul Schmid, Alan Silvia, Adam Scanlon; Fall River Mayor Paul Coogan; New Bedford Firefighters Union; Massachusetts Fraternal Order of Police
Campaign website

Thomas M. Quinn III

Bristol County District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III is running for re-election for a third term, and for the first time opposed. His challenger is a fellow Democrat and former employee of the Bristol DA’s office, Shannon McMahon. Quinn has served in the position since 2015, when his predecessor Sam Sutter left to serve as the mayor of Fall River. 

The Light asked both Quinn and McMahon 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? 

Well, I’ve been addressing them for eight years, to be honest with you, so we’re not just starting now. But I think the illegal use of firearms and violence in the streets is something that we focus on. We work with the various departments to do that — shootings and violence in the streets. We utilize that by working cooperative investigations and then utilizing dangerousness hearings to keep the violent and dangerous individuals off of the streets. That’s always been important to me. People have a right to feel safe in their communities, and individuals who are engaged in violent conduct, drug trafficking, hurting innocent people, we have focused on trying to keep them off the street if the facts and circumstances warrant it. 

Obviously for years, it’s been an ongoing drug problem, certainly has been exacerbated in the last eight years with the introduction of fentanyl into the streets, which is more potent and has resulted in the increase in overdoses, including fatal overdoses. So we’ve taken a two-pronged approach. We’ve had a number of investigations now into drug trafficking operations in the Greater New Bedford area. That has resulted in dismantling these organizations selling fentanyl and other narcotics, seizing large amounts of drugs and money, and trying to take these people off the street and disrupt what they’re doing, which is causing misery to the people who are addicted and their families. Also involved in prevention programs for lower level, non-violent offenders. 

We started a program several years ago in New Bedford, partnering with the New Bedford Police Department, it’s called the LEAD program. Well over a hundred people have been diverted pre-arraignment to the Seven Hills treatment center. We feel that’s an appropriate approach on certain offenses to allow them to get treatment and move forward with their lives. 

… There’s other programs we’ve done to try to deal with those low-level offenders. We are supportive of the recovery courts … You have to hold the drug traffickers accountable, prosecute them, which we have, and also do these other programs that assist community groups in the fight against drug use. It’s an ongoing battle. 

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? 

I don’t have an issue with them being open to the public. You mentioned Hugh Dunn was. Keith Hovan was in another county, so I mean, I can’t speak to that. But I believe in openness. The only thing I would say as an aside, put aside the publicity cases that people want to run into. There are a lot of matters that go on there and in some cases, just the average citizen … certainly many of these cases don’t warrant revelation to the public. But as I said, I don’t have an issue with it.

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. Will your office prosecute any local cases where there could be civil rights violations by these centers? And is the office committed to not assisting other states in their investigations into abortions?

That issue has nothing to do with the DA’s office. I’ve never seen it be brought to the attention, or as I said, an issue with the DA’s office. The law in Massachusetts now is well settled, and I follow the law. So it really has nothing to do with our office. 

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?

I’m the president of the [Massachusetts] District Attorneys Association. From our perspective, this is an agenda-driven bill, meaning these proceeds are seized from drug traffickers. The notion you’re gonna give this money back to drug traffickers doesn’t make any sense. There are laws in place that we follow. I’m OK with some reasonable amendments. The standard of probable cause or preponderance of the evidence is OK, but the notion that there’s something wrong going on here is just simply not accurate. These are the laws under the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I think frankly with that Senate bill, there’s things going on throughout the country with different groups who don’t like asset forfeiture. But almost the vast majority of all these cases involved the seizure of money that is a result of drug proceeds, which is split between the DA’s office and the police …

We have a forfeiture unit. The money has been disbursed and used for various community involvement or police training equipment. It’s put back into the community … The money is seized by the authorities, and then it’s put into a special account and it’s really not addressed until the case is over. In most instances, when a case is resolved, which is the district court, money is forfeited by the agreement of the parties. If a person doesn’t want to forfeit it, you can have a civil proceeding and they can advocate in court …The vast majority of money seized is related to selling drugs, and it’s a sanction against doing that and putting that money back into the hands of drug dealers just to go sell more drugs that are really ruining the lives of many people doesn’t make any sense …

I’m okay with [preponderance of the evidence]. If they want to have some threshold for money, I think it’s $250, if they want to do that, it’s okay. But the problem is if people are dealing drugs on the street, and I get that money and it’s 180 bucks I make off you, or $240, it’s not so much that you need that money, but do you want to just give that back to them to further their drug activity? 

On a tracking database: We got to report all this to the Legislature anyway. So we are doing that now. We file an annual report at least indicating the money, the proceeds that have been forfeited. So we’re already doing that, so I don’t really see the need for that … It’s all public record anway. So I wouldn’t want to agree to onerous burdens that already exist. We report the information. 

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 is the DA’s office doing anything to prepare?

I’m not aware of that going on. Certainly, that type of advocacy, if that’s white supremacy against minority groups, is unacceptable and would be dealt with very harshly by my office. I’m not aware of any ongoing problem here. If it becomes an issue, we’ll certainly respond to it appropriately. There’s no place for that in a civilized society. 

What is the last book you read?

“Tall Men, Short Shorts” by Leigh Montville. 

I’m in the process of reading “Hawaii” by James Michener, which is 850 pages. It’s about how Hawaii was settled, how the missionaries’ interaction with Hawaii from Massachusetts, and it’s interesting. But it’s very time consuming.

What’s your favorite meal to cook for family and friends?

I’d say a clam chowder meal, stuffed quahogs also. I cook other soups, but I think that’s the one … It depends how you want to make it. The key is the stock … Everybody’s got their own approach to it, how they like it. Some like it thinner, medium. I like it more medium.

What person gives you the most inspiration and why? 

Just off the top of my head, certainly my family has provided inspiration. Parents, being with your wife. I would say through my father, who was a big supporter of Martin Luther King Jr. I find him to be an inspirational figure because of a peaceful, nonviolent approach to change. There was somebody related to that who I find very inspirational. His name was Herbert Waters [Jr.] He was a figure in New Bedford locally, he was a principal … I remember I was 8 years old at Lincoln Park … on Route 6 … George Wallace, who was speaking, the former racialist governor from Alabama … I remember an individual from the back was yelling at George Wallace while he was speaking because of his racial tendencies. And that was Herb Waters [Jr.] and I admired his courage in doing that, because it was unpleasant, but it was the right thing to do. 

What’s your favorite place on the South Coast and why?

I would say the beach. I grew up on the beach in Dartmouth. I love going down there. I like going to Horseneck Beach, or Baker’s Beach down there … That’s sort of the beauty of the South Coast. It’s a nice place to live, but the coast, the South Coast, is a big part of it. 

Email Anastasia E. Lennon at