Boston Man Facing Gun, Drug Charges

By SCOTT JACKSON

A 36-year-old Boston man is facing gun and drug charges after Quincy police say they found more than 300 grams of crack cocaine following a traffic stop.

Police said an officer was on duty shortly after noon on Sunday with his canine partner when he randomly queried a black Volkswagen Jetta, which listed as revoked for insurance purposes. At that time, the officer activated his emergency blue lights and sirens and conducted a motor vehicle stop in the area of 277 Copeland St. A second officer arrived on scene to assist.

During his conversation with the operator, now identified as 36-year-old Rashar Williams of Boston, the officer observed, in plain view, a large heat-sealed bag on the rear passenger floor mat, police said. This bag contained a green leafy substance, which the officer immediately recognized as marijuana, weighing approximately one pound. The officer asked Williams to exit the vehicle as he learned that Williams was unlicensed and the vehicle status was revoked. He placed Williams under arrest for those charges and provided him with his Miranda warning. The officer then requested a tow for the vehicle and conducted an inventory of the vehicle per department policy.

While conducting an inventory of the vehicle, police said the officer located a gray/black duffel bag behind the driver’s seat. While opening the bag, he observed a silver revolver firearm, a black Glock gun case, a gun box, and a Nike Air Force 1 shoe box.

At that time, the officer stopped his inventory and asked QPD communications to check Williams’ license to carry (LTC) status. QPD communications informed him that Williams does not possess a valid LTC, police said.  While wearing latex gloves, the officer removed the firearm and deemed it safe. The firearm was a Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum containing no rounds of ammunition. The officer then observed several pieces of an off-white rock-like substance within the shoe box, believed to be crack cocaine. Inside of the Glock gun case was a speed loader, two six-round 9 mm magazines, a twelve-round 9 mm magazine, and one box of 9 mm ammunition containing eight rounds, police said All of the magazines were loaded with 9 mm ammunition. A total of twenty-one rounds were located inside the Glock gun case.

The vehicle was towed back to the Quincy police headquarters to be further searched as the area where the vehicle was stopped was very congested and was a safety concern for all officers involved. No further contraband or weapons were found inside the vehicle, police said. The vehicle was then towed to a local facility for safe keeping. The registration plates were confiscated.

While at the station, a detective field tested the off-white rock-like substance. It substance tested positive for the presumptive presence of cocaine base (crack cocaine), police said. The substance weighed approximately 324 grams.

Williams is facing several charges, including unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, trafficking over 200 grams of cocaine, possession with intent to distribute Class D, possession of a firearm without an FID card, using a firearm during a felony (trafficking cocaine), illegal possession of ammunition, improperly secured firearm, and possession of a large capacity feeding device.

Arraignment information was not immediately available Monday.

The owner of the vehicle was issued a citation via mail and summonsed for the following: revoked registration, uninsured motor vehicle, and allowing unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.

Baker Proposes $45.5 Billion Budget

By SCOTT JACKSON

Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday unveiled his proposed $45.5 billion state budget for the current fiscal year.

Massachusetts began the current fiscal year, FY21, on July 1 without a budget amid the coronavirus pandemic. Lawmakers have passed a series of one-month budget to keep government running in the interim.

The proposed budget introduced by the governor on Wednesday represents a $900 million increase over the FY21 budget he submitted to the legislature earlier this year.

The proposed budget includes no tax increases.

“The idea of going back to taxpayers given their own situation just didn’t seem like the right thing to do,” Baker said.

The governor later stated he would veto a tax increase should the legislature approve one.

Baker is proposing to withdraw up to $1.35 billion from the state’s stabilization fund, also known as the rainy day fund, to help pay for his proposed spending plan. There is $3.5 billion in the stabilization fund presently.

“The rainy day fund is there to support services when it’s raining, and I think most people would agree it’s raining,” Baker said.

The amount withdrawn from the stabilization fund could be reduced if taxes or other revenue comes in higher than anticipated, he added.

The proposed new budget would give cities and towns no less in local aid than they received in fiscal year 2020, according to Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito.

Baker said he expects the legislature to approve a one-month budget to cover spending for the month of November, and then to approve a final budget for him to review by Thanksgiving.

Baker Urges Continued Caution Around Coronavirus

By SCOTT JACKSON

Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday said the state is prepared for a rise in COVID-19 cases during the coming months and urged residents to remain vigilant to stop the spread of the virus.

“There is no question that there will be more cases this fall. That prediction was made last spring by researchers and public health experts,” Baker said during an hour-long State House press conference.

“We needed to be prepared to identify those cases early, keep our health system strong and protect the most vulnerable among us from the uptick. We’ve done the work, we’re prepared to respond to this virus like never before, but our preparations are of little use without the people of Massachusetts counting to do their part.”

Residents, the governor said, need to keep taking steps to stop the spread, such as social distancing and wearing face masks when necessary.

“What we need from you is continued vigilance as we head into the ninth month of fighting this virus,” he said. “Face coverings, distance and hygiene are all part of the plan.”

Baker said residents have done a good job complying with health guidance in public settings, like going to work or running errands. Such precautions also need to be followed in informal settings, like private gatherings, he stated.

“We also need your vigilance in informal settings, especially as we all move from our backyards to our living rooms and our family rooms,” Baker said.

The governor said residents who have traveled out of state or been in groups of people without masks should get tested for the virus and wear a mask at home to stop household spread.

“Stay vigilant and respect the virus,” he stated.

Baker was asked several times during his press conference if the rise in cases seen in Massachusetts in recent weeks constitutes the start of a second surge of the coronavirus. The governor said it is not.

“I don’t consider where we are to be anywhere near that,” he said. “What we have seen is a rise in cases that a lot of people predicted was going to happen months ago and we have been preparing for that.”

The governor was also asked if he would consider shutting down indoor dining, as some health experts have suggested he do, given the recent increase in cases. Baker said there is no proof the recent uptick has been caused by indoor dining; rather the increase has been driven by individuals in their 20s and 30s spending time together.

“There is no evidence that that is what’s driving our cases,” Baker said of indoor dining. “I’m not going to stop doing things just because somebody doesn’t like them. Somebody actually has to demonstrate in our data that something is actually driving cases.

“Right now, the thing that is driving cases is young people…who are spending a lot of time with each other in close quarters – apartments, rooftops, places like that. They are not social distancing and they are passing the virus around.”

While those in their 20s and 30s are less at risk from serious impacts of COVID-19 than older residents, Baker said they can spread the disease to more vulnerable individuals.

“The vast majority,” of individuals in their 20s and 30s, Baker said, “don’t get as sick as someone over the age of 60 would, but many do, and they do have the potential…to pass it along to other people in their family or in their network who are older and for whom getting the virus could be a very terrible thing.”

During his press conference, the governor outlined a number of steps the state has taken to prepare for a potential second wave of COVID-19 cases.

The state, for example, now has the capacity for 65,000 coronavirus tests per day, which will soon rise to 100,000 tests per day. The state was conducting about 2,000 tests per day in late March and 13,000 per day in May.

The state is also stockpiling personal protective equipment, or PPE, Baker said. The state has enough PPE – including masks, gowns and gloves – to last through the end of 2021, Baker said.

In addition, he said the state has a stockpile of 1,200 ventilators available, nearly twice the 675 that were used in the spring. The number of patients in the ICU peaked at 1,085 in April, for comparison.

Quincy Store Closed After COVID-19 Case

By SCOTT JACKSON

The Quincy Health Department is asking for the public’s assistance with contact tracing related to a COVID-19 case at the Fruit Basket Marketplace on Granite Street.

Anyone who was in the store between Oct. 2 and Oct. 11 is asked to contact the Health Department at 617-376-1273.

The store is working with the Health Department on the issue and will remain closed until further notice, Chris Walker, Mayor Thomas Koch’s chief of staff, said on Monday.

Board Members Concerned About Popeyes Traffic

By SCOTT JACKSON

Quincy’s Board of License Commissioners is giving a new fast food restaurant one month to address traffic concerns caused by its opening.

The board met on Tuesday to consider whether or not to grant a common victualler license to Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen at 502 Southern Artery. The restaurant’s proposed hours are 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.

At their meeting Tuesday, board members chose to allow the restaurant, which specializes in fried chicken, to remain open with a temporary license until their meeting on Nov. 10 to sort out traffic issues caused by its opening on Oct. 2.

Ward 1 Councillor David McCarthy said he knew restaurant would be popular once it opened, but the backups seen on Southern Artery during the first weekend were too much.

“Everyone knew it would be popular, but we were hoping for a different picture,” he said. “We’re just asking for trouble on a road like that.”

Inspectional Services Director Jay Duca, the board’s vice chairman, said he too had expected the restaurant to be popular but not as busy as it had been. He proposed giving the restaurant one month to address the traffic concerns.

“We want all of our businesses to be successful, but not with the traffic impacts on Southern Artery in this case,” Duca said.

He noted the Zoning Board of Appeals in 2018 granted a special permit to Popeyes for the drive-through with the understanding it would not cause traffic backups on Southern Artery. That special permit could be revisited if the traffic situation does not improve, Duca said.

Christopher Harrington, the attorney representing the Popeyes franchisee, said the traffic seen over the opening weekend was caused by pent up demand from area residents who had been waiting for the restaurant to open for the past two years. That demand is typical when such a restaurant opens, he said, and should subside within three to four weeks of the opening date.

Harrington said the restaurant had agreed to hire police details to handle the traffic flow for the first two weeks and would be willing to keep those details for longer if needed.

In addition, Harrington said the restaurant is in the process of partnering with Uber Eats on a delivery service and setting up a system for online ordering, both of which he said would take pressure off the drive-through line.

In other business on Tuesday, the Board of License Commissioners:

Granted Seyha Inc. d/b/a Gong Cha a common victualler license for the premises at 7 Beale St. Manager Piseth Cheav said Gong Cha is an international bubble tea chain. The shop will offer bubble tea and other beverages.

Granted the Common Market Restaurant Group permission to alter its premises to open an additional 1,500 square feet of outdoor dining and patio space. Greg McDonald said the restaurant has been using the space for outdoor dining on a temporary basis amid the pandemic and wants to use it on a permanent basis going forward. Using the space on a permanent basis requires additional approval from state regulators.

Quincy To Waive Restaurants’ Liquor License Renewal Fees

By SCOTT JACKSON

To provide relief to one of the industries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, Quincy will not charge restaurants to renew their liquor licenses next year.

The Board of License Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved Mayor Thomas Koch’s request to waive the $2,000 renewal fee for section 12 license holders for 2021.

The mayor, in a letter to the board, thanked the licensing board and its administrative staff for working with various restaurants this summer to expand their outdoor seating areas amid the pandemic.

“I heard from a number of my counterparts across the Commonwealth that Quincy set the standard by supporting a re-opening process that was remarkably easy, efficient, and designed specifically to help, not hinder, our businesses,” he said.

With winter approaching, Koch said restaurants will face additional challenges, which is why he asked the renewal fee to be waived.

“These establishments still face a very difficult several months ahead, and waiving this $2,000 renewal fee will help make a small difference in their efforts to endure the ongoing economic consequences of these unprecedented times,” Koch said.

“As you well know, the restaurant industry is a vital component of our local economy. It provides hundreds of jobs and is the primary source of income for many of our neighbors. We have a great responsibility to give them every tool possible to succeed amid this crisis, and I believe even a small measure such as waiving renewal fees will make a real difference.”

City Clerk Nicole Crispo, the chairwoman of the licensing board, said Koch’s request was a generous gift to the city’s restaurant owners.

“I’m sure they will appreciate it,” she said.

Chris Walker, Koch’s chief of staff, said there are 99 restaurants in the city with section 12 licenses, including some with beer and wine licenses. The city will miss out on just under $200,000 by waiving next year’s renewal fees, but Walker said the city’s finances would take a greater hit if restaurants go out of business.

“The concept is to help keep people open,” he said in an email. “If we have a number of closings, the revenue hit will be a lot worse than what we take in renewal fees.”

Quincy Students Returning To Classroom Part-Time Next Week

By SCOTT JACKSON

Quincy Public Schools students in grades four through twelve are set to return to the classroom on a part-time basis next Thursday, Oct. 15.

Students in pre-kindergarten through grade three were allowed to begin the school year last month under the hybrid model, which includes in-person and remote classes, and certain high-need students at all grade levels were also given the opportunity for in-person instruction. All other students started learning remotely amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The School Committee had targeted Tuesday, Oct. 13, as the date those students who started the year remotely could transition to the hybrid model. That has since been pushed back two days to Thursday, Oct. 15. Lauren Owens, the assistant to superintendent Kevin Mulvey, said the start date was pushed back two days because Wednesdays are fully remote days for all children except for certain high-need students.

Parents do have the option to keep their children at home where they would continue to learn remotely.

Ruth Jones, the city’s health commissioner, on Monday said ten COVID-19 cases had been reported among Quincy Public Schools students between Sept. 23 and Sunday. One teacher has also tested positive.

Mulvey, in a phone interview Monday, said five of those students were remote learners and five were hybrid learners.

The superintendent said he continues to work with Jones on plans to move to the hybrid model for all grades next week.

“She feels we’re still OK to move forward with planning. We’re taking it day-by-day,” Mulvey said. “We haven’t seen any in-school transmission, which is good.”

The district has protocols in place to help stop the spread of COVID-19, he stated. Those include six feet of distancing in the classroom and a requirement that students in grades two and up and all staff wear masks. The district used those same guidelines for in-person programming offered over the summer to special education students.

“We are following all the protocols we have been following since the summer,” the superintendent said.

Mulvey said his department also notifies parents and the school community after each confirmed case.

“Our goal is to be transparent,” he said.

Jones discussed COVID-19 cases among students during the Sept. 30 School Committee meeting. She told the school board the cases seen had come from community spread or spread within families.

“We’re not seeing any transmission within the schools, which is a good thing. We are looking at community spread,” Jones said. “Some are families. You see mom positive, dad positive and then a child may be positive. There were a number of cases that are unknown where they got it. No relation.

“But we do see spread within families when we’re looking at our contract contact tracing and when we’re doing our investigation.”

Quincy has seen an increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks and was designated a yellow, or moderate risk, community by the Department of Public Health on Sept. 30, with a case rate of 4.38 new cases per day per 100,000 residents over the prior two weeks. The city had previously been a green, or low risk, with fewer than four new cases per day per 100,000 residents since mid-August.

The rise in cases in recent weeks in Quincy and the rest of Massachusetts could have been caused by the return of students, including those in college, to classes and the start of fall as people spend more time indoors because of the cooler weather, Jones said Monday. But she said the majority of the increase is because some people are no longer taking steps to stop the spread of the virus, such as wearing masks and social distancing.

“I think people are getting lax or tired of wearing masks and social distancing,” Jones said. “I see a lot of people without masks on.”

Jones told the school board Sept. 30 that the move from green to yellow should not delay plans to move to hybrid learning.

“Just because we went into the yellow, I don’t think it should change our plans as far as the way we’re going forward with bringing students back,” she said, noting that other metrics need to be considered as well, including the number of cases among Quincy Public Schools staff and students, cases in students’ households, cases among city residents ages 18 and under, and the case rate in communities where QPS staff resides.

“You look at the other metrics…and it shows us that the transmission is not within schools. The transmission we’re seeing is community. And I would not not change anything right now the way that we’re planning on progressing back into four through twelve coming back hybrid.”

Committee member Paul Bregoli asked Jones why the guidelines for distancing inside schools are different than those in place for other settings. For example, Bregoli noted the state is now allowing up to ten people to sit at a table in restaurants.

“If we’re sitting ten people at a table, that’s pretty close to each other. And I think people are asking, well, if we can do that when we go out to dinner then why is it not possible for us to do that in a public school setting? And I had the same question,” Bregoli said.

Jones said many patrons who go to restaurants either live together or would otherwise spend time together, while children in schools come from different households.

“I think for the most part, if you see people going out to dinner, it’s people who are together a lot in other phases of their day or their life,” Jones said.

“In a school situation, we have many kids from different homes, different households, and the thought of having these kids too close together and then bringing that back to so many different households that we could see the transmission be much, much more widespread than in a restaurant situation. I think that’s the basis behind it.”

Bregoli also asked Jones if she would be comfortable reducing the distancing requirements in schools from six feet to three feet, which is the minimum distance required by the state. Jones said she is not ready to move from six feet.

“I’m very comfortable with six at this point and I think… the path that we’re going on is the right path. When we have the four to twelve group come back hybrid, I think that will give us a lot of information on how the schools will be able to succeed,” she said.

“We don’t want to overwhelm any resources, and this will give us some really good information of what happens when the larger group comes in.”

The district had surveyed parents in recent weeks to determine how many children would continue with remote learning and how many would move to the hybrid model. The percentage of students who will be moving to hybrid learning varies by grade level.

Grade four has the fewest students choosing the hybrid approach; 45 percent of those students will move to the hybrid model. Among fifth graders, 48 percent will move to hybrid classes.

A majority of middle schoolers will move to hybrid classes, including 58 percent of sixth graders, 56 percent of seventh graders, and 59 percent of eighth graders.

Ninth grade has the highest percentage of students moving to hybrid classes, with 61 percent of those students doing so. Less than half of other high schoolers – 49 percent of sophomores, 46 percent of juniors and 47 percent of seniors – will move to hybrid.

Parents of children in kindergarten to grade three had the same choice as well; 56 percent of kindergarteners are learning through the hybrid model as of this week, as are 53 percent of first graders, 54 percent of second graders and 50 percent of third graders.

Robert Harnais Nominated Associate Justice Of MA District Court

Local attorney Robert W. Harnais has been nominated as an associate justice of the Massachusetts District Court by Gov. Charlie Baker.

If confirmed by the Governor’s Council, Harnais would fill the seat vacated by the Honorable Dominic J. Paratore.

Robert Harnais

Harnais began his legal career in 1991 as an Associate for the Law Office of John Shorton in Roxbury, a general litigation firm where he represented clients in matters including personal injury, criminal, and care and protection cases in District and Juvenile Court. Previously, he served as a Probation Officer for the Quincy District Court from 1984 until 1988, and as an Investigator for the Massachusetts Department of Revenue from 1988 until 1990.

In 1993, Attorney Harnais formed Mahoney & Harnais in Quincy, a general practice firm where he remains a Partner and handles matters ranging from criminal and civil litigation to real estate conveyance and municipal permitting. Since 1999, he has also served as General Counsel for the Norfolk County Sheriff’s Office, and was Acting Norfolk County Sheriff from October 2018 until December 2018.

Attorney Harnais is a member and past president of numerous professional organizations, including the Massachusetts Bar Association (President 2015 – 2016), the Massachusetts Association of Hispanic Attorneys (President 2004 – 2006), and the New England Bar Association (President 2016 – 2017). He has also served as Chairman of the Braintree Planning Board since 2008, and as Vice Chair of the Governor’s Latino Advisory Board since 2017. Attorney Harnais earned his Juris Doctorate from New England School of Law and his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Massachusetts Boston.

The District Court hears a wide range of criminal, civil, housing, juvenile, mental health, and other types of cases. District Court criminal jurisdiction extends to all felonies punishable by a sentence up to 5 years, and many other specific felonies with greater potential penalties, all misdemeanors, and all violations of city and town ordinances and bylaws. In civil matters, District Court judges conduct both jury and jury-waived trials, and make final determinations on any matter where the likelihood of recovery is no more than $50,000 (for cases commenced on or after January 1, 2020). The District Court also tries small claims involving up to $7,000 (initially tried to a magistrate, where the defense has a right of appeal either to a judge or a jury).

Flu Shots Now Mandatory For Massachusetts Students

State public health officials on Wednesday announced that influenza immunization will be required for all children 6 months of age or older who are attending Massachusetts child care, pre-school, kindergarten, K-12, and colleges and universities. The new vaccine requirement is an important step to reduce flu-related illness and ​the overall impact of respiratory illness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students will be expected to have received a flu vaccine by December 31, 2020 for the 2020-2021 influenza season, unless either a medical or religious exemption is provided. Also exempted are K-12 students who are homeschooled and higher education students who are completely off-campus and engaged in remote learning only. This new flu immunization requirement to enter school in January is in addition to existing vaccine requirements for all those attending child care, preschool, K-12, and colleges and universities in Massachusetts. Elementary and secondary students in districts and schools that are using a remote education model are not exempt.

“Every year, thousands of people of all ages are affected by influenza, leading to many hospitalizations and deaths,” said Dr. Larry Madoff, Medical Director, DPH’s Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences. “It is more important now than ever to get a flu vaccine because flu symptoms are very similar to those of COVID-19 and preventing the flu will save lives and preserve healthcare resources.”

All children at least 6 months old who attend child care or preschool must be immunized in accordance with the ACIP Recommended Immunization Schedule.

All students in K-12 must receive the seasonal influenza vaccine annually by December 31. New students entering between January 1 and March 31 must have received a dose of vaccine for the current flu season before entry.

Depending on the child’s age and flu vaccination history, a second dose of flu vaccine in the same season may be recommended. In these cases, the second dose is not required for school entry.

For older students, the flu vaccine requirement applies to all full-time undergraduate and graduate students under 30 years of age and all full- and part-time health science students. The requirement includes individuals from outside the U.S. attending or visiting classes or educational programs in Massachusetts as part of an academic visitation or exchange program. The only exception is for college and university students who exclusively attend classes online and never visit campus in person. College students who attend any classes or activities on campus, even once, must be vaccinated by December 31.

The updated table of immunization requirements for the upcoming school year can be found at https://www.mass.gov/doc/immunization-requirements-for-school-entry-0/download.

No High School Football, Cheerleading This Fall

By SCOTT JACKSON

Most high school sports teams will be able to go ahead with their seasons this fall amid the coronavirus pandemic, but football and cheerleading have been pushed to a new floating season that would start later in the academic year.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association on Tuesday issued new guidance on high school athletics for the upcoming school year.

“Sports can be an important part of a well-rounded educational experience, even during the current public health crisis. Notwithstanding the risks associated with COVID-19, organized physical activity should be encouraged, within clear health and safety parameters,” the DESE and MIAA said. “Most sports can be played in ways that minimize those risks.

“In many cases, that will mean that inter-scholastic competitions may not look the same and may need to be played under fairly stringent restrictions with modified rules. Unfortunately, in some cases, competitive play may need to be cancelled or postponed. While difficult for all involved, it is essential that we keep health and safety paramount, both for everyone directly involved and the wider community.”

The new guidance allows most fall sports teams – including golf, cross-country, field hockey, soccer, gymnastics, girls’ volleyball and fall swimming and diving – to begin their seasons on Sept. 18.

Three sports – football, cheerleading and unified basketball – would not be allowed to go ahead with their seasons on that date. Those teams, however, would be allowed to practice starting on Sept. 18 and could begin playing games during a floating season that would start sometime later in the school year.

The DESE and MIAA guidance does not include start dates for the winter or spring sports seasons. The guidance also notes that higher-risk sports that play during those seasons – including hockey, basketball, wrestling, boys’ lacrosse and rugby – might also have their seasons pushed back to a floating season.

The guidance also sets new rules for athletics in districts with remote-only learning.

Districts designated as “red” based on the Department of Public Health’s metrics, and thus have their students learning remotely, must postpone their entire season, including practices, to the floating season.

Districts designated as “yellow,” “green” or “unshaded” by the DPH that also have high school students learning remotely can participate in the regularly scheduled season with approval from the local school committee.

The guidance states that the MIAA “will develop a timeline for looking at data prior to the start of each season to determine which color-coded designation a district should fall into for the purposes of engaging in sports.” It suggests, for example, that Sept. 1 could be used as date to determine initial eligibility for the fall season, which could be rechecked on Oct. 1.