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DA hires the son of senator despite history of arrests

Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley has hired the son of state Senator Dianne Wilkerson as a civilian investigator in his office's homicide unit despite the young man's long history of arrests, court records show.

In an interview, Conley said he knew when he hired Cornell Mills that he was the son of the Boston senator. However, political connections played no role in the hiring, Conley said.

The district attorney's office conducts criminal background checks on all job applicants, and it is rare for someone with an arrest record to be hired, Conley said. However, all the charges were ultimately dismissed against Mills, 31, the district attorney said, adding that Mills deserved the opportunity.

''Cornell Mills is a nice young kid who certainly got himself in some squabbles, but was never convicted of anything," Conley said. ''He's well liked around here; he's gotten terrific reviews from supervisors. We gave him a chance, and he deserved that chance."

The civilian investigator position is an entry-level position, with a $25,000 salary, and is often a steppingstone to other law enforcement jobs, such as with the State Police or FBI. Conley spokesman David Procopio said there are typically dozens of applicants for the positions.

Mills, whom Conley hired in January, was arrested at least four times on 15 charges between 1991 and 2000, according to public records obtained by the Globe from courthouses in the region, and a spokeswoman for the sheriff in Mecklenburg County, N.C., where Mills once lived.

In a 1997 incident, Mills was arrested in Brockton on charges of assaulting a Brockton police officer. According to the police report and a court clerk, after the police attempted to arrest his cousin for marijuana possession, Mills tried to block the officers from doing so, and repeatedly kicked Officer Callie Royster. The police report also says Mills told Royster: ''Do you know who I am, My mother's a senator, What's your badge number, I'll have [your] job."

Mills was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, and trespassing. All the charges were dismissed by a judge in 1998, except for the disorderly conduct charge, which was continued without a finding after Mills admitted there was enough evidence to convict him. After Mills served six months of unsupervised probation, that charge was also dismissed.

Conley said that Mills, during his job interview, acknowledged making ''inappropriate" remarks to the police officer, and said that he regretted them, though he did not admit to kicking the officer. Conley said members of his staff were impressed by Mills's candor in discussing the incident.

In an interview with the Globe, the police officer said that the charges were dismissed because of Mills's political connections, but the Globe did not find evidence to support that claim.

Wilkerson -- a Democrat who represents Boston neighborhoods including Roxbury, Back Bay, and the South End -- declined to comment and did not respond to questions faxed to her office. Mills said in an interview that his mother had ''nothing to do with" his hiring, but declined to respond further, saying his supervisor instructed him not to talk with the Globe.

Other arrests on Mills's record are:

In 2000, he was arrested in Dorchester on charges of marijuana possession, driving with a suspended license, refusing to identify himself, driving an unregistered motor vehicle, and driving with no inspection sticker. State Trooper Michael Szymanski said in the police report that Mills identified himself as Kendall Mills, the name of his brother, and was carrying marijuana. The trooper later found Mills's driver's license under the car seat. The charges were dismissed by 2001, after Mills paid $300 in court costs.

In 1995, Mills was arrested in a Charlotte, N.C., nightclub on charges of possessing 3 ounces of marijuana, said Julia Rush, a spokeswoman for the Mecklenburg County sheriff's office. A court clerk in Mecklenburg County told the Globe that records show Mills had only a half ounce of marijuana, and the charge was later dismissed. No other details were available, the clerk said.

In 1991, Mills was arrested while visiting his cousin's apartment in Dorchester. Boston police officers executed a search warrant there, finding a semiautomatic handgun, 50 bags of heroin, and several rounds of ammunition. Conley said that police had gone into the apartment seeking Mills's cousin, Andre Berry, whom they suspected of drug dealing and who is about the same age as Mills. They later dropped the charges against Mills and charged Berry with drug dealing.

Civilian investigators in the homicide unit help prosecutors prepare murder cases for trial and have a range of responsibilities, including delivering subpoenas, locating and transporting witnesses, and tracking down documents. They also have access to some law enforcement databases, such as criminal histories and Registry of Motor Vehicles data. A Conley spokesman said Mills carries a law enforcement badge.

Mills, who did not graduate from college and was working as a real estate broker and caterer when he was hired, has no law enforcement experience. But Conley said that is not unusual for investigators, who are given two weeks of training when they are hired, including one week during which they shadow an experienced investigator.

During criminal background checks his office conducts for all job applicants, Conley said, he automatically rejects people with convictions for violent crimes or felonies. Conley also said that during Mills's background check, his office probed whether Mills had a pattern of socializing with gang members or other known criminals and determined he did not.

Conley declined to say whether any other investigators in his office have arrest records. But he said that officewide, including support staff, about five of 279 employees have ever been arrested.

Conley said he feels that Mills has matured and that that it had been five years since his last arrest. Conley also said Mills speaks conversational Spanish, an advantage in the job. He also said Mills dates a prosecutor in the office and has good relationships with several prosecutors, who recommended he apply for the job.

However, Eugene O'Donnell, a former New York City prosecutor and police officer who teaches police administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said Mills's record makes him a troublesome choice for investigative work.

''It's hardly a youthful indiscretion when you're involved in criminal activity at 25, 26," he said. ''You're well past the age to know what you should or shouldn't do. Criminal involvement doesn't make you unsuited for every kind of employment, but when you're talking about law enforcement it's a completely different standard you're looking at."

He said most law enforcement agencies rule out candidates with arrests even if they did not lead to convictions.

''There's a 'what's wrong with this picture' aspect," O'Donnell said, ''even when it's not a provable offense."

Suzanne Smalley can be reached at ssmalley@globe.com

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