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Springfield mayor holds a rally to criticize the courts and a big landlord over crime

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno speaks at a rally on crime held on July 31, 2023 in the School-High Streets corridor of the Metro Center.
Paul Tuthill
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno speaks at a rally on crime held on July 31, 2023 in the School-High Streets corridor of the Metro Center.

Mayor Sarno was joined by about two dozen community leaders

Following another police crackdown in a high-crime area of Springfield, Massachusetts there was a rally with community leaders to call on the state courts to keep violent criminals off the streets.

Assembled by Mayor Domenic Sarno, who for years has harangued judges for setting low bail for people accused of violent crimes, leaders of youth centers and anti-violence programs – many funded by the city – said they stand with the mayor.

Vinnie Borello, director of the Springfield Boys and Girls Club on Carew Street, said when their doors close at night, kids need a safe place to go.

“We’ve got to take our neighborhoods back so it is a safe and positive place to grow,” he said.

The rally was in a parking lot in the School-High Streets corridor, an area notorious for drugs and prostitution where five people have been killed in shootings this summer and police sweeps have resulted in scores of arrests and seizures of large quantities of drugs and guns.

In a 48-hour period last week, police arrested 11 people in the High and School Streets vicinity and seized heroin and cocaine and firearms including ghost guns and handguns that had been modified to fully-automatic operation.

One of the people arrested, Michel Perez-Cruz, was subsequently charged by Springfield homicide detectives with a murder that happened in June. Four days before the murder, Cruz had been arrested on firearms charges and was freed on bail, Sarno said.

“We are demanding that the courts and some of our judges hold these individual accountable,” Sarno said. “Keep them off my streets and out of my neighborhoods.”

The Hampden County Bar Association has been critical of Sarno’s judge bashing. The state Trial Court has declined comment. For years, legislation supported by Sarno that would allow prosecutors to appeal bail rulings has gone nowhere on Beacon Hill.

City Councilor Lavar Click-Bruce, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said he agrees with Sarno.

“Thankful for the recent arrests made by Springfield Police Department, we are choosing to do something,” Click-Bruce said. “Let’s see if our courts and judges will back us in holding these bad actors accountable. We are not powerless.”

At the rally, Sarno also called out one of the city’s biggest landlords – Springfield Gardens, which owns about 50 buildings with more than 1,000 apartments across the city. He said Springfield Gardens has been “nonresponsive” to calls to improve security at its buildings where police say a lot of the criminal activity is taking place.

“In the dictionary, if you look under ‘slumlord,’ its Springfield Gardens,” Sarno said.

A representative for Springfield Gardens did not reply to a request for comment.

Among a small crowd of people who watched the rally was Anna Smith, who said until recently she lived in the Springfield Gardens-owned apartment building at 47 School Street.

“Walk up to the front doors of these buildings, those no locks on those front doors,” Smith said. “And there’s plenty of vacant units in those buildings that they don’t come and check on. So, there’s squatters living in there and they’re cooking drugs and using drugs and prostituting in there and it just creates an environment for (crime) to flourish,”

The city has repeatedly taken Springfield Gardens to Housing Court for code violations.

Tenants at Springfield Gardens buildings have protested over what they describe as unbearable living conditions.

Earlier this year, the housing agency Way Finders said it began withholding rental assistance payments for more than 50 Springfield Gardens tenants because of failed building inspections.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.