Reporter's Notebook: Assessing the fallout from a criminal case

State Rep. Carlos Henriquez, who represents parts of Dorchester and Roxbury, has vowed to fight the allegations of domestic assault and kidnapping in court, issuing a statement proclaiming his innocence. But that’s unlikely to quell the questions surrounding what happened early Sunday morning between him and a 23-year-old UMass Boston student, who says he “punched” and “strangled” her, according to the police report.

Nor is it likely to stop people from thinking of challenging him in this year’s election. One Meetinghouse Hill resident with ties to City Hall and the State House said she is considering such a move.

Henriquez, in the statement, forcefully called the allegations “untrue,” but offered up no details about what exactly had transpired between the two that morning. “I will follow the advice of my attorney and not provide any details of this incident, other than to say and reaffirm I am innocent,” he said.

The details in the police report and the time of the incident – 4:30 in the morning around Northeastern University – do not offer a good start for the Democrat’s defense case.

Some local Democrats continue to hope he will tell his side of the story, but also note that the 23-year-old woman has her own story to tell.

Charlotte Golar Richie, who once held the same Fifth Suffolk District seat as Henriquez, said the charges are serious and the community doesn’t take them lightly. “We don’t want to rush to judgment on this and we want to recognize that this is a person by everyone’s account who has not shown any behavior in the past that would lead one to believe that he would do such a thing,” Richie said. “But we also know there is the woman’s side of the story as well and we don’t want to forget about her.”

Richie, who was supported by Henriquez’s mother and late father when she ran for state representative, added, “We’re all interested in hearing from him and we want to hear what his plan is before we put forward our own for him.”

If Henriquez decides that he cannot speak about the charges – that his hands are tied and that this is going to be a protracted legal matter – and cannot serve the community at the same time, he should seriously consider a “transition plan,” Richie said.

“That does not speak to innocence or guilt,” she said. “That just speaks to priorities.”

One of the state’s top Democrats, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, declined to say on Tuesday if there would be an investigation on his end, according to the State House News Service. “Right now,” he said, “as I stated yesterday and I still feel the same way, the accusations are of an extremely serious nature, and as far as I’m concerned right now I would feel it’s necessary for us to let, sort of, the court process play itself out, somewhat, anyways, before we decide what action, if any, is necessary.”

State House Republicans, so far, aren’t wading into the mess.

Rep. Henriquez has several electoral options, including taking his chances with voters. There is some overlap between his Fifth Suffolk House District and the City Council’s District 7. Then-Councillor Chuck Turner, indicted on bribery charges, ran for reelection and won handily. Henriquez is intimately familiar with that race, since he was Turner’s opponent, running against him for the second time.

Turner was eventually convicted by a jury, booted off the council, and replaced by Tito Jackson. Turner maintains his innocence while serving out his prison term.

Rep. Henriquez could step down and say he is not running for reelection. Local Democrats could then tap a candidate to replace him, such as a ward committee leader.

Barry Lawton, who lost to Henriquez in the 2010 Democratic primary by 41 votes, could also mount a write-in campaign for the September primary. Lawton said he has received phone calls from people wanting him to run while noting that Henriquez has had a “rough stretch,” a reference to the recent death of his father, local activist Julio Henriquez.

“It’s too early to make any kind of judgment,” Lawton said on Monday.

Lawton’s soon-to-be ex-wife feels differently. Nanci Conklin Lawton told the Reporter she is considering a campaign against Henriquez. “It’s not the time to have a legislator have a mug shot,” she said.

Conklin Lawton, a Democrat, has worked at the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development for the last 13 years. She has also worked as a State House aide and served as a past president of Meetinghouse Hill Civic Association. Conklin Lawton is in the process of divorcing Barry Lawton.

Conklin Lawton does not have a timeframe for a final decision on whether to run, she told the Reporter. “I have to weigh my options,” she said, adding that she will put her twin children first. But, she added, if Henriquez is not holding back his punches, “why should I?”

Complicating things for local Democrats is the fact that this year, the primary will be held on a Thursday (Sept. 6) instead of a traditional Tuesday. Mix that in with the low voter turnout that is a constant in the Fifth Suffolk District, and anything can happen, including variations of the aforementioned scenarios.

Althea Garrison, a former state representative, may have made a tactical mistake running as an independent this time, which places her on the November ballot. Like Lawton, she was not eager to give a comment on Henriquez’s troubles. Garrison, a perennial candidate, has usually amassed several hundred votes in each election she has run in, though never enough for a return to elected office.

Henriquez’s next court date is on Sept. 27, in between the primary and the general election.

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