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Amid calls for reform, Newton police chief announces retirement

Newton Chief of Police David MacDonald
Newton Chief of Police David MacDonaldHaley Chi-Sing for The Boston Globe/Haley Chi-Sing for The Boston Globe/File

Newton Police Chief David MacDonald announced his retirement Tuesday, less than a day after the city’s mayor said a civilian task force would examine the police force in the wake of ongoing Black Lives Matter protests and criticism of his officers’ stop of a Black resident last month.

In a statement released Tuesday night, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said MacDonald told her that morning of his intention to retire. Fuller has not selected an acting police chief to take over the department, and she will work with MacDonald this week to decide on his retirement date, she said.

“Chief MacDonald shared with me that he wants to focus more on his health and his family, so it made sense to him, that this summer would be the time for him to hand over his gold badge after 27 years of service,” Fuller said in the statement. “He will now be able to spend more time with his wife and their two children.”

MacDonald, who has been with the Newton Police Department since 1993 and as chief for nearly five years, will depart the force amid criticism for his department’s conduct when officers stopped Tim Duncan, a Black resident who was out walking with his wife on May 20.

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Police believed Duncan, a former Northeastern University deputy athletic director, was the suspect in a fatal Boston shooting. Duncan is now the athletic director at the University of New Orleans.

During the incident, one officer drew his gun and another asked for Duncan’s identification. Duncan, 50, feared police would think his wallet was a weapon, and instead, an officer retrieved it from Duncan’s pocket.

A detective apologized, but Duncan decided to go public with the police stop following the death of George Floyd, 46, while in Minneapolis police custody. The moments before Floyd’s death -- when an officer pushed his knee into Floyd’s neck -- were captured on video, and helped spark worldwide demonstrations opposing police violence against Blacks and people of color.

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Duncan’s treatment by police led to local protests outside Newton’s police headquarters and demands by residents to defund and reform the city’s police department.

On Monday, Fuller announced sweeping measures to address what she said were longstanding fears of Black residents and people of color regarding policing, including a civilian review board to review the department. She also announced Newton’s police would adopt 8 Can’t Wait reforms, including a bar on chokeholds.

Local organizations representing clergy, housing, and environmental advocates, as well as a majority of the City Council, say they also want an independent investigation into the police’s stop of Duncan.

Council President Susan Albright has also called for greater transparency from the city’s police, and said she would put forward measures to review the department’s use of force policy and its treatment of minorities.

Fuller, in her Tuesday statement, said she has worked closely with MacDonald to consider the ways Newton police can “reimagine law enforcement” and be a leader in policing in Massachusetts. MacDonald was appointed by Fuller’s predecessor, Setti Warren, while she was still a member of the city’s then-Board of Aldermen.

“He recently recognized that with all of the work we have ahead, that his successor would be best off starting that important work from the beginning stages, rather than at the implementation stage,” Fuller said. “I understand that and appreciate that even while making this difficult decision, he again, considered the needs of the City of Newton Police Department.”

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During his tenure, MacDonald rose through the ranks, and was a narcotics investigator and supervisor for the Middlesex County Drug Taskforce for seven years. He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from UMass Amherst and his master’s of science degree in criminal justice administration from New England College.

MacDonald worked to enhance community policing efforts in Newton, and to ensure that the department lived up to “its mission of guaranteeing respect and dignity for each individual” while preventing crime, solving problems, and enforcing the law, Fuller said.

“I am proud of his commitment to procedural justice and treating all people with dignity and giving residents a voice. I am grateful for his dedicated service to the City of Newton,” Fuller said.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.