Charlestown’s Diane Valle had criminal charges filed against her in Charlestown Court on Friday for allegedly desecrating the Peace Park on Lowney Way, a charge her attorney said is baseless.
Members and organizers of the Charlestown Coalition and Turn It Around youth group – who are considered the victims of the charges – chose not to comment publicly at this time as the case is pending.
Valle will be arraigned on the charge in another court venue at a later date to be determined.
The Peace Park was launched in March 2018, with young people from the Turn It Around youth group repurposing the dilapidated park at the time for a place to remember those murdered or lost to addiction. The effort was funded by a City grant and done with the proper permits. Using remembrance rocks, members of the community and the young people painted names of those lost and placed them at a memorial in the back of the park. However, some neighbors protested to the re-use from the get-go, as well as the design and color-schemes.
Valle was one of those neighbors.
This fall, members of the Charlestown Coalition and the Turn It Around group found that the park had been torn up, the stones removed, memorial plaques taken off the benches – as well as a couple of shade trees chopped down. It brought a massive backlash and Valle was suspected of having done it.
In Charlestown Court on Friday, a private Clerk’s Hearing commenced at the lunch hour and proceeded for more than an hour. Several witnesses were brought in and a Police Det. Al Holder presented his investigation to the clerk. Those proceedings are not public, but at the end of the hearing, the clerk decided there was enough evidence to move forward with one charge.
That charge is officially logged as causing injury to a church or synagogue with under $5,000 damages. That charge entails “willfully, intentionally, and without right, or wantonly and without cause, destroy, deface, mar or injure a church, synagogue, or other building, structure, or place of worship, or a place used for the purpose of burial or memorializing the dead, or a school, education facility or community center or the grounds adjacent to and owned or leased by, or any personal property contained in any of the foregoing, the damage to or loss of such property not exceeding $5,000.”
The penalties for the charge could be a sentence of no more than 2.5 years in the House of Corrections, for a fine not more than $2,000.
Valle’s attorney, Seth Orkand, said Valle noticed the park had fell into disrepair – something that was cited by another neighbor in a Letter to the Editor that appeared in this paper last month. Orkand said Valle reached out to the group to offer help, but they rebuffed her offer.
“As a member of the Charlestown community, Ms. Valle supports greenspace improvements in the community,” read a statement from Orkand. “As was reported in the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge (in a Letter to the Editor from neighbor Jeff Campbell), the weather severely damaged the park last winter, as did MassDOT crews responsible for plowing and shoveling snow in the park and removing mature trees, shrubs and debris. Ms. Valle and her Mount Vernon Street neighbors offered to assist the Charlestown Coalition in the project but their offers have been rebuffed.
“It is unfortunate that the Charlestown Coalition is not interested in working together with all community members toward the common goal of improving the park for all to enjoy,” he continued.
However, in the detective’s report, one witness in the case testified to having contacted Valle about the destruction of the park. That witness told police that Valle allegedly indicated she had made the changes to the park, and allegedly admitted to having altered the memorial and memory stones.
The report also indicates that Valle went to the Charlestown Police Station on Sept. 27 to speak with an officer there that works closely with the community. That officer told detectives that Valle came to him to say she had made a big mistake, and feared she might be in trouble.
“Officer…advised Ms. Valle that he was aware of the incident and for her not to say anything further,” read the report. “Ms. Valle went on to mention something about a tree being cut, further offering that it was just a big misunderstanding. At which time, Officer…paused Ms. Valle from making further commentary.”
In the report, Charlestown Coalition Director Sarah Coughlin told police that Valle allegedly objected to the Peace Park from the beginning in 2018, and allegedly “often harassed the youths involved in the program as it was being created in addition to sending emails voicing her discontent and opinions along the way.”
In the original police report on Sept. 28, Coughlin told officers that Valle allegedly “expressed to other people in the community that the park and the children and teenagers I attracted would negatively affect the value of her property.”
In the detective’s report, however, Coughlin acknowledged that there were no witnesses to Valle damaging the Peace Park.