A Charlestown woman pleaded guilty and was arraigned on one count of destroying, defacing or injuring a place that memorializes the dead for her role in vandalizing the Peace Park on Lowney Way.
Diane Valle, 67, of Charlestown, received a continuance without a finding for six months and has to perform 50 hours of community service – and if there is any similar trouble within that six-month time, the judge was specific that there could be a trip to the House of Corrections ordered.
In West Roxbury District Court, located in Jamaica Plain, the matter went before Judge Kathleen Coffey on Thursday, Aug. 20, after many months of delay due to the usual legal journey and COVID-19 restrictions. There had been attempts to try to divert the case and prevent the arraignment last year and earlier this year, but those attempts failed. Even prior to the arraignment, Valle’s lawyer, Seth Orkand, and Judge Coffey had hoped to divert the arraignment, but after a recess of more than 30 minutes, higher ups at the District Attorney’s office advised that they wanted to move forward.
The centerpiece of the court date, was an apology from Valle, and testimony from those who had built the Peace Park in 2018 and said they had clashed with Valle over the design and purpose of the Park for some time. The Peace Park was initiated in 2018 by the Turn It Around youth group and carried out with a small grant from the City of Boston; it was meant to be a memorial for all of those lost to violence, drug use or tragedy of any kind.
The situation with the Park’s destruction has been a hot topic of conversation for more than one year in the Town.
After most of the morning spent on legal discussions about the arraignment, the matter took place around noon, but was preceded by testimony and the apology.
Valle began by saying she hopes everyone can work together and she has devoted many years to working with the community. She told the court she has tried to work with the group in the past, but it never had success.
“The testimony we heard pains me,” she said. “If they were hurt, we need to heal this. I’ve worked with this group before but we didn’t have much success because of things that aren’t pertinent. We all want to make our community better. I do want to work with them.
“I understand the pain they have,” she continued.
“It would only behoove us to work together, “ she also said.
It wasn’t enough for Judge Coffey, however.
“I need to hear the pronoun ‘I,’” said the judge.
“I am extremely sorry we are in court and this experience is causing pain to people,” Valle said. “I am sorry.”
Assistant DA Elizabeth Teebagy said the charge indicates on Sept. 25, 2019, Valle willfully and intentionally and without concern destroyed, defaced or injured a place that memorializes the dead.
Teebagy said the Commonwealth would prove via an eyewitness that Valle painted a gold fence at the Peace Park black without permission. They said there was no eyewitness, but they would also move to prove that Valle took and threw away Memorial Rocks that had the names of people who had passed away, died tragically or been murdered over the years.
“In the painting of the fence, there is an eyewitness that saw her truck open and her painting that fence,” said Teebagy.
Valle admitted to doing those things, and waived her rights to a trial or any other legal remedies. The District Attorney had suggested a one-year continuance without a finding – essentially probation – and Attorney Orkand called for three months. Coffey settled on six months and added the 50 hours of community service.
“I believe in particular with this community service within Charlestown that actions speak louder than words so I am requiring that,” she said. “When you do this community service, the members of the Charlestown community will see your remorse through your actions. I do primarily believe actions speak louder than words. I do hope others accept your apology and sincerity, but your actions will speak louder than these words.”
Judge Coffey was concerned most of the day about whether people were able to forgive Valle, and that the community could repair itself after the harm that had been caused – particularly to the young people and the organizers that created the Park originally.
Charlestown Coalition Director Sarah Coughlin said there was more to it than vandalism, and that the kids (most whom are teens of color) from day one felt they didn’t belong in the Park – that they weren’t supposed to be in that part of Charlestown or there would be trouble.
“When we started, the kids were hesitant to be there and said they were not welcome on that side of town,” said Coughlin. “They told us this wasn’t a side of the Town we supposed to be on…The end goal here is we want accountability…The kids are saying they can’t go down and say they don’t like the color of the Monument and then decide to paint it orange. We teach the kids to follow the rules. She knew she didn’t have permission to do this and did it anyway. We just want accountability. I’m ready to work with Ms. Valle. If she had called and talked to me, we wouldn’t be here.”
Turn It Around member Zaire Richardson, 20, said she has lived all her life in Charlestown and for 10 years no one has touched the Park until they decided to improve it. She said some years ago, she was charged with a similar crime when she had a run-in with her mother.
“I had a six-month continuance and had to go to therapy every week and check in with the courts,” she said. “I’m glad that did happen because I improved myself as I was accountable…I want to make sure that there is accountability here no matter what. I had to work with a public defender and navigate the courts myself. I didn’t have the funds for a fancy lawyer to defend me.”
She said she was ready to forgive Valle and hoped she would work on the upcoming Peace Park project that is to occur soon.
Elaine Donovan also testified as a member of the Coalition steering committee, but she was also pained as she and her friends had placed rocks in the Peace Park memorializing loved ones that had died. All of those rocks were missing, and she said it was hard to forgive that.
“These kids told all of us they didn’t feel welcome or wanted there and they didn’t feel wanted there,” said Donovan. “They didn’t feel welcomed because someone had more money or power than them…I put a rock there for a five-month baby infant I lost. It was the first time I had ever mourned that death. That rock is gone.”
“Can you forgive her?” asked the judge.
“I’m working on that,” said Donovan.
Coffey again warned Valle that a misstep could result in a sentence in the House of Corrections, which she said no one wanted to see.
“I want to warn you that could happen if you fail to complete the terms and conditions of the probation,” said Coffey.
More than anything, though, she wanted everyone to return to Charlestown and find peace of mind and forgiveness. The Turn It Around group said they would welcome her to help them, and the judge said there would be no legal restrictions to preventing that.
“I want everyone to talk and I want to encourage that and I want everyone to figure out how to be good neighbors and live together,” she said. “If it’s prickly and uncomfortable initially, then so be it.”