Barnstable County’s newly elected Sheriff Donna Buckley said she would begin her first day in office by ending the department’s 287(g) agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Meanwhile, new Cape & Islands District Attorney Rob Galibois said he has begun to build his team. Galibois said he is trying to increase the diversity of the staff, which has not employed an assistant district attorney of color since the 1990s. He has hired Jessica Elumba as his first assistant — there has never been a woman in that role at the Cape & Islands D.A.’s office, he said.
Over 200 people were expected to attend the Jan. 4 swearing in of Democrats Galibois and Buckley at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable, Galibois said. Their elections mark a huge shift in criminal justice in Barnstable County, since both key positions had been held for two decades by Republicans Sheriff James Cummings and District Attorney Michael O’Keefe.
Galibois said that, of 24 assistant district attorney positions, he has decided to retain 13 prosecutors who worked with O’Keefe and has hired eight new ones. He is still interviewing for the remaining open positions. “Some left on their own and some were not invited back,” Galibois said.
Buckley planned to leave the swearing-in ceremony to hold a special event at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the Barnstable County Sheriff’s office in Bourne, where she would “publicly discontinue” the 287(g) agreement with ICE, she said.
The agreement allowed the sheriff’s staff to carry out roles otherwise reserved for immigration agents, including interrogating and initiating prosecution of undocumented people who are in their custody. Sheriff Cummings was the last Massachusetts sheriff to have such an agreement with ICE. The only remaining 287(g) agreement in New England is in Massachusetts, with the state’s Dept. of Correction.
On the campaign trail, Buckley said ending the 287(g) would be her first priority.
“It was a tool to target immigrants and create a sense of fear,” Buckley said. “No other sheriff in Massachusetts or New England does this. We pay taxes to the federal government to do their job, and there is no reason for the local police or sheriffs to do that work.”
The 287(g) agreements have been widely criticized. In February, Lawyers for Civil Rights, a Boston-based nonprofit that advocates for equity, sued Cummings based on the argument that it is illegal for the state to spend tax dollars on immigration enforcement because it is the task of the federal government. A similar lawsuit was filed against the Plymouth County sheriff’s office in 2020. That suit was dropped when Plymouth Sheriff Joseph McDonald Jr. ended the ICE contract in 2021.
Earlier in 2021, ICE itself canceled its contract with former Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson because Hodgson and his staff had violated the civil rights of immigrant detainees in May 2020 in a situation related to Covid-19 safety, according to WBUR. Afterwards, a federal judge ordered the release of dozens of detainees to quarantine at home, according to Lawyers for Civil Rights.
Next: Mental Health Focus
Galibois said among his first steps in office will be forming a diversity, equity, and inclusion committee to steer recruitment efforts and to look at the other ways local prosecutors can be more sensitive to minorities. To that end, he is also forming a “D.A. and Us” committee, which will be made up of local chapters from each town and will meet regularly with the district attorney to discuss concerns that arise at the local level, such as those relating to the opioid epidemic and the treatment of minority groups, including immigrants.
Keeping the lines of communication open with each town will be his biggest challenge, Galibois said.
One of Galbois’s main campaign promises was to inaugurate a so-called mental health court so that people who commit crimes as a direct result of a mental illness can be ordered to participate in treatment as a condition of probation. Because the D.A.’s office is funded by the state, he will need state approval to get that court going. Seven other counties in Massachusetts have mental health courts, and because Barnstable is the second smallest court district in the state, Galibois said, he expects his proposal to gain state approval swiftly.
Galibois, 52, was raised in Millis, attended Boston College High School, then the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He earned his law degree at the Massachusetts School of Law in Andover. Now a resident of Barnstable, he started out as an assistant district attorney on the Cape, then moved into private practice. He has been a defense attorney for 20 years.
Buckley graduated from Suffolk University Law School in 1985. She was an attorney for the International Brotherhood of Police and Correctional Officers, worked as an administrative law judge, and had a private practice for nine years before beginning a 15-year stint as a field representative for the Massachusetts Teachers Association. Her last four years were spent as general counsel for Sheriff Cummings’s office.
Buckley said her work with the teachers’ union prepared her well for working on today’s policy challenges. Back then, she said, “education was in the public policy crosshairs.”
Now there is public pressure on policymakers to deal with the fact that jails have become de facto holding cells for the mentally ill and addicted.
Buckley said she wants to bring in better quality treatment for inmates with addiction and mental health diagnoses. Currently, the Barnstable County Correctional Facility spends just 1.7 percent ($538,037) of its $32-million budget on such services.
“We all know we need to provide more robust onsite mental health services,” she said.
The systems outside of the jails are also not adequately addressing the county’s addiction or mental health challenges. They are not equipped to handle the crisis, and recruiting correctional officers will be key to systemic change, she said.
Cummings had previously said that making a difference would mean hiring 60 more officers. Buckley has a more modest plan. She said she will start by bringing four or five officers who Cummings assigned to town patrols and, infamously, to operate a patrol boat, back to work at the jail.
Buckley has called Cummings’s patrol boat a waste of taxpayer money. Once she has taken office, she will be able to see just how much was spent on it, she said, since Cummings never responded to her public records request to discover those facts.