December is drawing to a close, ending an unusual year in Fall River history. It was a time of reckoning for some, a new beginning for others. This was the second year of the COVID pandemic that still has the world in its grip, casting a specter over every aspect of life in the city. And yet there were some positive developments too.
We looked back at the past 12 months of Herald News stories and came up with a list of 10 of the most important issues and stories that affect us all. Let’s look at them all briefly — and we’d like you to choose which are the top three stories of 2021. Vote using our form at the bottom of the story.
Fall River teacher fired over Facebook post gets her job back
In 2020, Taryn Camara, a Kuss Middle School teacher was fired over complaints circulated about a post she published on her Facebook page that some construed as racist. The posting was made during a period of national unrest following the death of George Floyd, and Camara’s attorney later said the remarks were meant to be sarcastic. This past year, Camara sued the Fall River School Department, the Fall River Educators Association and the Massachusetts Teachers Association — and an arbitrator gave Camara her job back, along with back pay. The story sparked conversation about the boundaries between people’s social media accounts and their careers — and if that boundary even exists.
Social media boundaries:This Fall River teacher was fired for her Facebook post. Here’s what an arbitrator ruled.
Superintendent Matt Malone ousted over harassment allegations
This past year was a rough one for former Superintendent Matt Malone. In January, the School Committee disciplined him after an investigation revealed he harassed district staff members, including calling a disabled employee the “R-word” and using inappropriate language toward female employees. He also faced heat for declining to appear before the school board to discuss capital improvements, exchanging testy emails with City Council President Cliff Ponte in a feud that turned public. In June, Malone resigned effective Nov. 1, ending a career that started in Fall River in 2016.
Schools chief steps down:Embattled Fall River Superintendent Malone announces resignation
Fall River store owner catches flak for being at Capitol riots
Six days into the new year, a mob of supporters of then-President Donald Trump marched in protest to the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., and caused politically-motivated mayhem on a scale not seen in our lifetimes. Hundreds of people stormed the building, damaging property, ransacking offices, disrupting a joint session of Congress, and threatening lives. Mike St. Pierre, a Fall River grocery store owner, livestreamed himself from Washington participating in the march, and was videotaped hurling an object inside as a door was broken open. St. Pierre was questioned by the FBI. His grocery store has since closed, and he has opened another, similar business.
‘Caught up in the moment’:Fall River store owner Mike St. Pierre regrets his actions at Capitol riots
The COVID vaccine comes to Fall River, but the virus still lingers
In the pandemic’s second year, not just one but three COVID-19 vaccines were developed with incredible speed, with some form of vaccination eventually rolled out to everyone ages 5 and older. At first with limited supply, vaccines were rationed by age group and medical condition, but by now, vaccines are widely available, some without an appointment, and public clinics are held nearly every day. Thanks to vaccinations and perhaps a seasonal lull, COVID was on the ropes in the summer — but with vaccination rates too low and mutations spreading, the virus is raging again as winter starts.
Take your shot:Experts say the COVID vaccine is safe for kids as cases spike across Greater Fall River
Fall River on the small screen, the big screen, and the small screen again
Fresh off the release of “Jungleland” in 2020, the cable channel Epix debuted “Fall River,” a four-part documentary series on a handful of murders in the late 1970s and 1980s, and the Satanic panic that followed. The series won over audiences and critics. Later in the year saw the debut of the Netflix comedy blockbuster “Don’t Look Up” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep, with scenes shot on the Battleship Massachusetts in 2020. The film headed to theaters before finding its way to Netflix for Christmas.
‘Don’t Look Up’ review:Fall River’s Battleship Cove looks good, but McKay’s film is a smug mix of angry comedy
Former mayor Jasiel Correia II is convicted of corruption
After a stratospheric rise to power, Jasiel Correia II fell to earth in 2021, facing a four-week trial of fraud and extortion tied to schemes he orchestrated before and during his tenure as mayor. He maintained his innocence in the face of over 30 witnesses testifying to shocking displays of extravagant luxury spending, misuse of investor money, and shameless coercion of business owners into paying bribes, but was convicted and sentenced to six years in federal prison for his crimes. He’s awaiting a date to report to prison.
Tracing Jasiel Correia’s fall:From entrepreneur and mayor, to convicted corruption kingpin
Marijuana business grows in Fall River, and flowers in Somerset
Correia’s trial, involving marijuana businesses, put a crimp in Fall River’s burgeoning cannabis economy, with Mayor Paul Coogan promising to retool the local licensing process and make it more transparent. We looked at the state of marijuana businesses in Fall River. Meanwhile, Somerset made headlines by hosting world-famous hip-hop stars at a concert sponsored by Solar Therapeutics, a celebration known as the Cultivators Cup.
The deal with dealing pot:As the Jasiel Correia trial winds down, here’s the state of marijuana sales in Fall River
Fall River police department in trouble for withholding evidence and more
The department made headlines in 2021 for the wrong reasons. The city is facing several lawsuits regarding allegations of excessive force by police officers, with one officer facing discipline for filing false reports to protect another officer. In the spring, an officer accidentally published a post critical of murder victim George Floyd on the department’s Facebook page, triggering outrage and a suspension. And there was a serious investigation regarding officers mishandling evidence in outstanding cases, including stashing drugs in their desks.
More mishandled evidence? Fall River police investigate boxes found at officer’s home
Old Durfee High School closes for good, new Durfee impresses students and visitors
There was a changing of the guard on Elsbree Street, as the 1978 B.M.C. Durfee High School building was shut down for good after decades of leaks, heating issues, mold problems, construction failures and more — but the city’s new Durfee High opened. The building construction was on schedule for the start of the September school year, wowing students and visitors who attended open houses. The old building is in the process of being demolished.
Peek inside:What does a $263 million school look like? Check out Fall River’s new B.M.C. Durfee High
Mayor Paul Coogan easily wins re-election in contentious race against Cliff Ponte
Though his first term was mostly dominated by response to the COVID pandemic, voters gave Paul Coogan another term in office as mayor. The race was often ugly, getting off to a poor start when challenger and City Council President Cliff Ponte derided the job as “ceremonial” in a memo to his real estate company staff leaked to the press. Coogan officially starts his new term next year, with Ponte ending his tenure on the council to become a private citizen.
Another term:Incumbent Paul Coogan handily wins Fall River mayoral race
What’s the biggest story of the year?
Use this form below to cast your vote for first, second, and third place.
Dan Medeiros can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Herald News today.