BOSTON, Mass. (SHNS)–Gov. Maura Healey on Thursday nominated a clinical social worker to fill one of several vacant seats on the Massachusetts Parole Board, and recommended a new set of pardons including one for a man convicted of armed robbery just seven years ago.
Sarah Beth Coughlin, tapped to serve on the panel that makes parole decisions and vets pardon applications, works as director of community engagement and partnerships at Mass General Brigham and was also described by Healey’s office as a community organizer.
She spent eight years as director of the Charlestown Coalition, which focuses on social determinants of health, and works with the Committee for Public Counsel Services on evaluations, coordination of re-entry plans, and helping defendants secure treatment placement.
Her lengthy resume includes three years as a clinical social worker with the Boston Police Department/Youth Connect. Based out of the downtown Boston and Charlestown police station, she provided critical trauma services, home visits, response to high-risk youth and their families, and therapy “addressing issues including substance abuse, gang involvement and weapons carrying.”
Coughlin was also an assistant house parent at Perkins School for the Blind from 1998 to 2007. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Providence College and a master of social work from Boston College.
That nomination is now pending before the elected Governor’s Council, which has final approval power over the board’s membership. The council meets next on Sept. 6, when it could schedule a future public interview with Coughlin.
Healey has not yet nominated anyone to fill two other vacant seats on the Parole Board, whose members have been swamped by a heavy workload after a string of resignations.
By endorsing four pardon applications Thursday, Healey gave a thumbs up to all of the petitions that were on her desk in June after initial approval by the Parole Board.
The governor recommended forgiveness for Kenny Jean, convicted of armed robbery in 2016; Murphy Smith, convicted of assault in 1988; Evan Willey, convicted of operating under the influence in 2009; and Joanne Booth, convicted in 1979 of assault and battery on a police officer and in 1983 for “operating to endanger.”
All four petitioners were unanimously supported by the Parole Board, which in clemency matters operates as the Advisory Board of Pardons. No members of the public testified or sent letters in opposition.
Bank Robber Faces Deportation Risk
In Jean’s case, the board recommended that Healey issue a “conditional” pardon that explicitly does not allow him to obtain a firearms license. He said he wanted the pardon so he can apply for a new green card or for citizenship in order to avoid potential deportation.
Jean robbed the Seekonk branch of BayCoast Bank in 2015 before his getaway car was stopped in East Providence, Rhode Island.
His conviction is more recent, and more serious, than with most of the other pardons recommended in the last couple of years. He served prison time after his Bristol Superior Court conviction and was released in 2018, according to the Parole Board’s report.
Supporters pointed to childhood abuse, mental health struggles for which he is now receiving treatment, and the looming possibility he could be deported to Haiti.
Jean came to the United States from Haiti at age 6, the board wrote, and was placed in custody of the Department of Children and Families at age 11 after being abused by family members. A memorandum from his attorney stated he has been “diagnosed over the years with PTSD, Reactive Attachment Disorder, ADHD, and significant cognitive limitations including a borderline IQ of ~70.”
Jailed at age 18 in another case for which he was not convicted, the board wrote that Jean then found himself homeless and unsure “how to survive on his own.”
“He explained that the robbery for which he is seeking a pardon was a desperate attempt to get money. He committed the offense with an older man he knew from the streets,” the board wrote in its summary of the interview.
After his prison sentence for the Seekonk bank robbery, Jean was transferred to the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement who reportedly told him he would be deported.
He was released by ICE in 2018 with the assistance of immigration attorney Susan Church. Church appeared before the Parole Board to testify in support of Jean’s pardon request in April, telling board members that she believed Jean was at “high risk” for deportation and that only a pardon could allow him to remain in the U.S. In a separate letter to the board, Church opined that the Department of Children and Families was negligent when it did not apply for citizenship on Jean’s behalf years earlier.
Church was hired by the Healey administration in May as chief operating officer for the state Office for Refugees and Immigrants.
The board also heard effusive words of support from Jodi Rosenbaum, CEO of More Than Words, where Jean has worked both before and after his robbery and incarceration. The nonprofit bookstore describes itself as a “social enterprise that empowers young adults who are in the foster care system, court-involved, homeless, or out of school.”
Rep. Russell Holmes said in a letter to the board that he had known Jean for several years through More Than Words, and that it “would be unconscionable for the Commonwealth to allow this young man to be deported after serving as his legal guardian for most of his childhood.”
Governor’s Councilor Marilyn Devaney, the district councilor for Jean’s petition, told the News Service on Thursday that she planned to handle his case differently.
The Watertown Democrat said Jean would be “overwhelmed” if he had to attend an in-person interview at the State House “surrounded by people,” so she planned to hold a hearing where members of the public could speak but Jean himself would not be present. That hearing is now scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on Sept. 6.
“His parents were cruel, abusive, beat him, and finally they just abandoned him and he was out in the street. And so he’s had a horrific life,” said Devaney, one of seven councilors who will take final votes on whether to grant the pardon. She added that she wants to see Jean gain U.S. citizenship “because he has that threat over him that he’ll be deported.”
Other Pardon Applicants
“These four individuals are deserving of pardons for offenses that they committed a long time ago, and they have since taken productive steps to improve their lives and give back to their communities. Our administration believes that clemency is a powerful tool to ensure that our criminal justice system is just and equitable,” Healey wrote in a press release Thursday.
One of the other potential pardons, Smith, cited concerns around his future employment opportunities in his application.
He told the Parole Board of serious depression he experienced when his longterm girlfriend ended their relationship in the 1980s, and the governor’s office referred to it Thursday as a “mental health crisis.” He and the ex-girlfriend took a drive together to talk, he told the board. He denied making any threats, detaining her in the car, or attempting to touch her, but “stated that [she] was likely scared” when she reached over and beeped the car horn as they came up to the Quincy Police Station.
He pleaded guilty to an assault charge and was sentenced to a year of probation.
Another applicant, Willey, paid a $500 fine in Plymouth District Court after his arraignment for an OUI at the age of 18. “He described it as a dumb mistake he made when he was a kid,” the Parole Board reported.
Since then, Willey served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2009 to 2012, received a Purple Heart after he was wounded in Afghanistan, and was honorably discharged. He holds a master’s degree and “works at the VA helping others who have served our country,” the board’s report said. He expressed a desire to apply for a firearm license to hunt and teach his children about firearm safety.
Booth threw a shoe at a police officer after several fights broke out at a packed club in Cambridge when she was 18, according to her file from the board. Sentenced to probation 44 years ago, she completed community service hours by volunteering at a nursery school where she found a “passion” for early childhood education.
She successfully sealed her record and worked in the early ed field for 20 to 25 years, she told the board, but was terminated after her employer “received a grant that mandated unsealing of criminal records” for employees.
Booth’s pardon application drew letters of support from Rep. Sean Garballey, who called her a “dedicated public servant, with decades of volunteer work to make our community a more prosperous place,” and from Arlington Boys & Girls Club Executive Director Derek Curran, who wrote she has “tremendous patience and her positive attitude is infectious.”
The Governor’s Council is not required to hold hearings on pardon cases before voting on whether to approve them, and no other hearings besides Jean’s had been placed on the calendar Thursday.