Role Of State Cited In Jean's Pardon Bid

Massachusetts State House in Boston downtown, Beacon Hill

Photo: Elijah-Lovkoff / iStock / Getty Images

BOSTON (State House News Service) - Supporters of a convicted bank robber's bid for a pardon pointed the finger at state government Wednesday as being "complicit" in the man's spiral into homelessness and crime -- and pending immigration woes -- after years in the custody of the Department of Children and Families and struggles with mental health conditions.

One of the four latest pardon recommendations from Gov. Maura Healey, Kenny Jean served prison time for an armed robbery conviction after making off with cash from the Seekonk branch of BayCoast Bank in 2015. But, the speakers in the Governor's Council Chamber said, his story runs deeper.

Jean immigrated from Haiti at age 6 and entered DCF custody at age 11 after suffering abuse from family members, according to a Parole Board report.

"He remained in DCF custody until his case was abruptly closed at the age of nineteen," the report said, summarizing its March interview with Jean. "He was released with no transition plan or services in place, despite evaluations indicating that he would require services into adulthood. When DCF released him without any supports, he was unable to navigate the complicated immigration system by himself. At the time, he believed that DCF had already taken care of his immigration status on his behalf."

The Department of Children and Families had not, in fact, applied for citizenship on his behalf. That became an issue when his time in prison came to an end, and he was transferred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facing potential deportation.

Immigration attorney Susan Church, who has since joined the Healey administration, helped secure his release. Church testified to the Parole Board this year that she believed Jean remained at "high risk" for deportation and that only a pardon could allow him to remain in the U.S.

Attorney Patricia Garin took on Jean's case two or three years ago, she told the council Wednesday, and felt the state bore some responsibility for the turn his life took.

"I feel like, yes, the state was complicit in what happened to Mr. Jean," Garin said. "But as we say in the petition, the state is now going to be complicit in saving him, and helping him, and helping him continue his life the way it's going."

A co-director of the Prisoners' Rights Clinic at Northeastern University School of Law, Garin said Jean "was pretty much left on his own, homeless, when he finished DCF."

Councilor Tara Jacobs said she was "really struck" by "the ball being so badly dropped by the state in this case," and Councilor Marilyn Petitto Devaney opined that state government agencies "did not lend that helping hand that he needed so much."

Jean's pitch to the Parole Board, the initial panel that reviews potential pardons, discussed how he was unsure "how to survive on his own" when he found himself homeless prior to the Seekonk bank robbery.

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." Devaney described him as "literally going through life alone, on his own."

Jacobs and Devaney are two of the seven members of the elected panel that could vote as soon as Sept. 13 on whether to grant final approval to Jean's clemency appeal.

A first-term councilor from Western Massachusetts, Jacobs said she feels "a sense of responsibility in picking [Jean's case] back up," especially given the "clearly urgent" issue of his immigration status.

Jean has worked both before and after his robbery and incarceration at More Than Words, a nonprofit based in Boston and Waltham that partners with agencies like DCF and district attorney's offices to employ at-risk young adults.

The CEO of More Than Words, Jodi Rosenbaum, was the only other witness to speak in the Council Chamber. But she wasn't just there as the CEO -- she said she was also attending in her capacity "as a mom" who has known Jean for more than 11 years.

"As my daughter said, 'He's like family, Mom,'" Rosenbaum said, as she recounted memories with Jean from occasions like Thanksgiving, spending Christmas with him in Chinatown, and how he danced at her daughter's Bat Mitzvah.

"As you've seen from the hearing and the petition, things went sideways when his [DCF] case was closed," she said. "Life got hard. Choices were made. He did not understand the implications of his status, because with a 70 IQ and state agencies accountable for him for most of his life, he didn't really understand what his immigration status was."

Jacobs quizzed Rosenbaum on what would happen if Jean gets a pardon, clears up his immigration status, and something "goes sideways" again.

"Do you feel that he's come to a place where, in processing where he's at and what his needs are, that he'll be in a place to reach out for the support that clearly is around him," Jacobs asked, "versus possibly making another desperate choice that lands him in trouble?"

Rosenbaum said it's a "different time and place for him" now that Jean is receiving Department of Mental Health services, is "religious" about going to therapy, and has experienced positive brain development between ages 19 and 28.

In addition to gaining a green card or citizenship to avoid deportation, Jean's witnesses said he wants to find employment, possibly as a cook, and hopes to get a dog.

"This has been like a never-ending punishment for him," Rosenbaum said of the conviction. "And this is the only cure to help him move his life forward."

Devaney, who called for and chaired the hearing, and Jacobs were the only two councilors present.

"I was waiting, hoping some of the other councilors would come," Devaney said as she gaveled the chamber to order nine minutes behind schedule.

Jacobs told attendees that "I know the rest of the councilors, though they may not be here today, are very much enthusiastic and supportive of the governor bringing these cases to us."

After other members of the elected council arrived later for a council meeting, Councilor Paul DePalo told the News Service that while he supported the flow of clemency requests from Healey's office, he was generally opposed to his colleagues convening public hearings to probe them.

The Worcester Democrat said council members are able to review videos of the initial Parole Board hearings, and can ask questions of board members or Healey's legal office.

Councilors "need to lean on the process that exists" and defer to initial interviews before the Parole Board as the venue for public input, DePalo said.

"Our job, if that process has been followed, is to ensure that the pardon was done because of legitimate reasons. For those reasons, I don't think that it's feasible, nor do I think it's necessary, nor do I think that we should be, having hearings on the pardons -- that I'm hoping continue to come," he said.

Devaney heaped praise on Rosenbaum and Garin before adjourning, saying that while "our governmental agencies and these departments are supposed to be helping people, ... if it wasn't for these two people, there wouldn't be a pardon today."

Written By Sam Doran/SHNS

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