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Shugrue begins tenure as Berkshire DA by reasserting his tough on crime campaign message

Berkshire District Attorney Timothy Shugrue delivering remarks at his swearing in at the county court house on January 4th, 2022.
Josh Landes
/
WAMC
Berkshire District Attorney Timothy Shugrue delivering remarks at his swearing in at the county court house on January 4th, 2023.

Timothy Shugrue was sworn in as Berkshire County District Attorney in Pittsfield, Massachusetts Wednesday afternoon.

Shugrue’s staunch support from law enforcement and tough on crime message prevailed over incumbent progressive Andrea Harrington in the 2022 Democratic primary, ending her one-term tenure as the county’s first female DA. Shugrue ran unopposed in November’s general election to become the county’s fifth DA.

Inside Berkshire County Superior Court, retired Judge Daniel Ford served as master of ceremonies for the swearing-in.

“I think Tim is going to be an extraordinary DA, because of his experience, his intelligence, his compassion, and his sense of fairness," said Ford. "It has been said that while the prosecutor at his best, is one of the most positive forces in our society, when he acts from malice or other base motives, he is one of the worst. Tim will be a positive force. He has rightly pledged to take a tougher approach to serious and violent crime, especially where firearms are involved. People who chose who choose to engage in that type of activity had better luck to their backsides now, because I know Tim well enough to know that he means what he says and that he will be well landless in holding those people accountable. But he has also pledged not to seek jail time, or to saddle young people with criminal records for relatively minor crimes stemming from youthful indiscretions.”

Ford faces scrutiny to this day over his involvement in the case of Bernard Baran, a gay Pittsfielder who was convicted of rape and sentenced to three concurrent life sentences in the mid-80s amid the day-care sex-abuse hysteria that swept the country. At the time the county’s First Assistant District Attorney, Ford led the prosecution. After Baran spent decades in prison experiencing beatings and rape, his charges were dismissed after evidence emerged that he had both received an inadequate defense and been victim to prosecutorial misconduct. Baran died in 2014.

Sheriff Tom Bowler, who won his third six-year term in 2022, spoke of his close relationship with Shugrue and underscored through allusion the strained relationship he and other county law enforcement leaders had shared with Harrington.

“There is no doubt that Tim Shugrue will bring common sense to the DA’s office and accountability to the criminal justice system under Tim Shugrue," said Bowler. "Cooperation between the District Attorney's Office and the county's law enforcement agencies will thrive under DA’s leadership, DA Shugrue’s leadership, and public safety will be at the forefront.”

Shugrue opened his remarks by thanking Ford for acting as master of ceremonies.

“I continue to appreciate his friendship is wisdom and profound guidance," said the DA. "More importantly, I’ve been honored to call you my friend and mentor for the last three, three years. Judge Ford, your service to our community is noteworthy. And I would reiterate what has been said since your retirement: Our legal community is much better prepared and our communities safer because of your stewardship of the law and oversight of the judicial process that have made our community safer.”

Shugrue noted the support his campaign received from police unions on both the state and county level.

“Members of these organizations clearly understand that effective prosecution and criminal justice reform do not act as a choice," he said. "It's not one or the other. When effective prosecution and criminal justice reform, they go hand in hand, that's when we see positive change. In the Shugrue administration, we will partner with law enforcement. The relationship with the DA’s office and law enforcement must work in concert with one another to protect the citizens of Berkshire County. In the Shugrue administration, we will also value criminal justice reform. I have defined myself as a fair, responsible in my approach to reform and someone who advocates for and actually achieves effectively, more importantly, responsible progress. In order to see progress, we have to make changes. People who break the law must be held accountable for their actions. It is irresponsible refuse to charge individuals who commit relatively minor crimes such as shoplifting, allow them to repeat their antisocial conduct, time and time again, with no consequences. There's difference between compassionate justice that takes into fact social factors into the equation and provides support programs and responds to vagrant behavior versus completely blindness and unwillingness to act for larger political reasons.”

Shugrue has pledged to resume prosecution of lower-level crimes, which halted under Harrington’s leadership as part of a larger effort to address systemic racism within the criminal legal system.

“As your next district attorney, I also value to try to improve your quality of life by making Berkshire County safe for citizens who obey the law and do not deserve to be victims of crime," he said. "I'll do that by aggressively prosecuting career violent criminals, while at the same time connecting youthful and nonviolent offenders to community for better outcomes.”

The new DA also promised to harshly crack down on gun-related crime.

“Without question, Berkshire County DAs have all taken the seriousness of rape, child abuse, and domestic violence as offenses punishable to the greatest extent of the law," said Shugrue. "But we need to expand our opinion of what a serious offense is, illegal possession of a firearm is a crime that must be punished appropriately. There's a growing number of illegal firearms in our community, firearms brandished not just by adults, but also by youths. When the community lives in fear of this violence, when our law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day to apprehend these individuals possessing these deadly weapons, then it's our job to prosecute. These cases should not be reduced from felonies to misdemeanors, and plea bargain away to non-jail sentences. I vowed to you today to prosecute these cases vigorously and to seek state prison sentences when I think such sentences are necessary to protect you, the public.”

Shugrue noted that he had been able to hit the ground running as DA that very morning, and that his commitment to reform and community involvement was just as important to him as being tough on crime.

“This morning I officially established a department of community engagement within the Berkshire District Attorney's Office, that’s sole responsibility would be to operate outside the courts and solely focused on our community," he said. "The Shugrue administration will follow a nationwide trend of district attorney's offices that value transparent and proactive involvement in communities. Through this department, I will reestablish partnerships with community stakeholders. I'll return the days of education programs to the schools. I will create new partnerships through education programs, and accessibility to DA’s office for seniors living in Berkshire County. I will build a DA’s office connection to mental health providers. I will provide support programs to families, especially grandparents and children affected by the drug epidemic.”

The swearing in was attended by three former Berkshire County DA’s, including Harrington.

“Well, I am very excited to see the future successes from the Berkshire district attorney's office, and this is an incredibly important office to the health and the safety and the well-being of the community," she said. "And I certainly wish my successor all the best.”

WAMC asked Harrington if she had any advice for the new DA.

“I don't think that Mr. Shugrue needs any advice from me, but I'll certainly be cheering Mr. Shugrue and the team on and looking forward to seeing the great work that they do in the future,” the former DA responded.

David Capeless, who spent 14 years as DA until 2018, was also on hand.

“I'm just hopeful that we're going to have a return to having a confidence in our DAs office and a good working relationship with the police in Berkshire County going forward," said Capeless. "I think Tim is going to be able to do that.”

Capeless’s handpicked but shortly-tenured successor Paul Caccaviello – who held the office for just months between his predecessor’s retirement and Harrington’s victory – described Shugure’s swearing-in as a great event.

“I think it'll be a great administration," he told WAMC. "I think he'll- He will definitely do justice for the community.”

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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