Long-serving Bristol County District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III, who has never run opposed, has a challenger this election cycle who also worked for his office until 2016: Shannon McMahon. 

Both Quinn, 62, and McMahon, 42, are running on the Democratic ticket. With no registered Republican opponent for the Nov. 8 general election, the Sept. 6 primary will essentially be the final vote determining who will be the next Bristol DA. 

Both candidates have been critical of one another. In interviews with The Light, neither minced words, with Quinn stating McMahon is running a vindictive campaign and unfit to serve after a 2016 domestic assault arrest, and McMahon saying Quinn is complacent, lacks transparency and shows desperation when he mentions her arrest. 

Asked why she was running, McMahon said it was a “lifelong dream.”

“It’s why I worked so hard to get where I am,” she said. “I just loved being in the courtroom, I love all of it. I love being a lawyer in Bristol County.”

McMahon, a Swansea resident, joined the DA’s office in 2014, working as a prosecutor for what was then called the drug court, she said, adding she also worked on domestic violence and sexual assault cases. 

She said she is running to address what she sees as complacency and a lack of transparency by the current Bristol DA, Quinn, who has served in the position since 2015. 

“I got tired of seeing everyone in that office just keep talking about Aaron Hernandez. It’s like, what else have you done?” she said. “I went to the recovery court a couple of times. There’s less people in it now than there used to be. We’re not keeping up with the times … I’ve watched other courts establish veterans court, mental health court, and especially post-COVID, I mean we absolutely need to get a mental health court, especially with our juveniles right now.”

McMahon said if she is elected, she will seek to expand the recovery court, establish a veterans court and create a grant writer position so that the office can apply for more funding. Currently, she works as a senior trial attorney on civil litigation for a private firm. 

On why he was driven to become a DA, Quinn said his father, grandfather and uncle were all lawyers. He was drawn to prosecution while in law school, and said the job is about being fair in handling cases and doing one’s best to see that justice is accomplished. 

“That’s something I’ve tried to do throughout my career,” he said.

Quinn was appointed Bristol DA by Gov. Charlie Baker in 2015 after Quinn’s predecessor, Sam Sutter, left the role after winning the election for mayor of Fall River. Before that, Quinn served as first assistant to Sutter for eight years.

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If re-elected, Quinn, who lives in Fall River, said he will continue the work he’s been doing, which includes a program that diverts lower-level drug offenders to treatment; an elder abuse unit; a new missing persons project, which is an expansion of the cold case unit; and a rape kit testing initiative. 

The DA’s office expects all 1,148 Bristol County rape kits, which previously sat untested in the state lab, will be fully tested by a private lab by the end of 2022. So far, the kits have helped solve two cases.

One of those cases, solved this July, led to the arrest of a 28-year-old New Bedford man in connection to the rape of a 16-year-old girl in the city 10 years earlier. 

Quinn touted his office’s role in the high-profile criminal cases of Aaron Hernandez, the deceased, former New England Patriots player, and Michelle Carter, who urged her boyfriend to kill himself through text messages.

He also noted his role in the commutation of Thomas Koonce, who was in prison for first-degree murder. Quinn testified this year before the Governor’s Council on the efforts Koonce made to reform his life.

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Both candidates have lodged criticisms of the other, including during a recent in-person debate hosted by Dartmouth Week, Dartmouth Community Media and WBSM. Quinn discussed McMahon’s arrest — which precipitated her resignation from the DA’s office in late 2016 — and called the incident “disturbing.”

In November of 2016, she was arrested following a domestic incident with her husband, and charged with assault and battery against family or a household member — a misdemeanor. The charge was subsequently dismissed, with the court docket citing marital privilege

Per a police report from the Swansea Police Department, the responding officer wrote he detected an “overpowering smell of alcohol” upon entering the home.

McMahon told The Light her husband had just been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and the two of them had had an argument. She said she refused to tell police what happened, or to press charges. Her husband declined a restraining order. 

Her husband had been on a medication known to cause aggression and personality changes, McMahon explained. Since the arrest, she said they’ve attended counseling and changed the medication. Her husband is still fighting brain cancer.  

Meanwhile, McMahon has criticized Quinn on his handling of an investigation into a Fall River police officer who fatally shot Anthony Harden while responding to a domestic violence call. Harden tried to stab another officer with a knife, according to police. 

Quinn’s office confirmed the shooting involved an officer who is a friend of Quinn’s son, which drew criticism from McMahon and Harden’s family. Quinn said it had no bearing on the case, but McMahon said it was “deplorable” that Quinn did not remove himself from the investigation, calling it a “serious conflict of interest.”

The DA told The Light that while Harden’s death is a tragedy, there is “no question” the police officer was justified in using deadly force, adding McMahon has been misleading the public and trying to manipulate the family’s tragedy for political gain.

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Harden’s brother, Eric Mack (also an attorney), this summer petitioned the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to have Quinn removed as DA. Bristol County Assistant District Attorney Mary Lee filed a motion to dismiss the complaint against Quinn. Per the SJC docket, the case is still pending. 

Mack and Harden’s family have donated more than $2,000 collectively to McMahon’s campaign, per finance reports. 

McMahon has also criticized Quinn on abortion, calling herself the only “pro-choice” candidate for Bristol DA, and attending local abortion rights protests.

She has pointed to a joint statement from elected prosecutors, issued in June and updated in July, to argue Quinn is not as supportive. 

“Not all of us agree on a personal or moral level on the issue of abortion,” reads the joint statement. “But we stand together in our firm belief that prosecutors have a responsibility to refrain from using limited criminal legal system resources to criminalize personal medical decisions.”

Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Massachusetts elected officials and abortion rights advocates have been concerned about possible extradition requests by authorities from states where the medical procedure is no longer legal, or is more severely restricted. 

Abortion care was codified into Massachusetts law in 2020, and following the Supreme Court Decision this summer, protections were expanded in the state through an executive order by Baker and new legislation.

The joint statement is signed by state and district attorneys from across the country, including Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and district attorneys for Berkshire, Norfolk and Middlesex counties, as well as the Northwestern District. 

Quinn, who has not signed it, said he was not aware of the petition and that it was not presented to him. He added that a majority of DAs across the country did not sign it, and that one DA in California who signed it was recalled.

“This issue has nothing to do with the DA’s office or the work that we do every day,” Quinn said. “The law is well settled in this state.”

Quinn said McMahon’s focus on abortion illustrates she lacks substance in her campaign. McMahon, however, stressed the importance of knowing where one’s elected officials stand on abortion given the right is not always promised.

Both candidates have been very active on the campaign trail, shaking hands and showing face at several events across the county.  As of July 31, Quinn’s campaign had a balance of about $306,000, while McMahon’s had about $5,700, according to campaign records. 

Quinn graduated from College of the Holy Cross and the Suffolk University Law School. He has been endorsed by several state senators and representatives, as well as Fall River Mayor Paul Coogan and the New Bedford Firefighters Union. 

He currently serves as president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, having been elected to the position in November of 2021. 

McMahon graduated from Roger Williams University and the University of Massachusetts Law School, and has received the endorsements of Bristol County for Correctional Justice and the New Bedford Democratic City Committee Chair Richard Drolet. 

In 2016 and 2018 — the only elections he has run for DA — Quinn ran unopposed and received about 188,000 and 141,000 votes, respectively, in the general elections, according to the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office. 

The state primary takes place on Tuesday, Sept. 6. Find more information on voting in the primary and final elections here. 

Email Anastasia E. Lennon at alennon@newbedfordlight.org