Local Black clergy members, along with the leader of the state’s minority police officers association, called Wednesday on Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh to reinstate embattled police Commissioner Dennis White, and criticized the administration’s handling of past domestic abuse allegations levied against the city’s top cop.
At a press conference on the steps of Dorchester’s Ella J. Baker House, the Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III said White has been unfairly targeted and demanded racial diversity among members of the independent investigation team reviewing the 22-year-old allegations that White pushed his then-wife and threatened to shoot her.
“Give the man justice, give him his job back,” said Rivers, who organized Wednesday’s event. “Do the right thing, Mayor Walsh.”
White, who was appointed the city’s second Black police commissioner last month, was placed on administrative leave by Walsh just days after he was sworn in. The Walsh administration admitted it was unaware of the past allegations, and hadn’t fully vetted White. White strongly denied the allegations at the time in court records, and the Globe could find no evidence that he was ever charged with a crime.
Rivers and others suggested Wednesday that White was facing undue scrutiny because he was Black, and pushed back on the historic lack of diversity within the top ranks of the nation’s oldest police force.
Jeffrey Lopes, president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, said that the Boston Police Department’s disciplinary process has often disproportionately affected minority officers.
The allegations against White, he added, would have been “obviously known” to the department given White’s ascension through the ranks.
“At no time did any vetting process appear to raise concerns that prevented Commissioner White from advancing,” Lopes said. “To the contrary, prior to being named commissioner, White rose through the ranks of BPD from patrol officer to superintendent — chief of staff. . . . We fail to understand why a known accusation has now resulted in the commissioner being placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.”
Lopes was quick to point out that the minority officers association does not condone domestic violence — or object to the current investigation into White.
“What we object to,” Lopes said, “is the decision to immediately place a minority police officer on leave pending an investigation for an unspecified period of time, versus conducting the investigation and then making a decision.”
Details of the White’s history remain shrouded in mystery. The Boston Police Department has refused for weeks to release to the Globe details and records related to White’s past internal affairs cases, which include an investigation for an unspecified violation of the law. Details of the domestic violence allegations were outlined in probate and family court files related to White’s divorce, as well as a restraining order that had been issued by a judge.
A spokesman for the city declined comment Wednesday, citing the ongoing independent investigation. A police spokesman declined to comment on the department’s vetting process.
For decades, the minority officers association has accused the department’s internal affairs system of racial bias, describing a process that doled out disparate and unduly harsh discipline for Black officers. Last October, a Globe analysis found that Black officers were more likely to face scrutiny for alleged misconduct and to receive harsher discipline than their white counterparts. White officers, meanwhile, were much more likely to receive medals and special citations.
On Wednesday, Rivers specifically cited the case of white police Captain Timothy Connolly — who was arrested in 2019 for allegedly assaulting his wife — as a benefactor of that system. Rivers incorrectly claimed that Connolly, whose criminal charges were dropped after his wife declined to testify in court, had been promoted after his arrest. Rivers also suggested other white officers had benefited from racial bias.
William Gross, the city’s first Black commissioner who retired late last month, has defended the department’s discipline as “fair and equitable.”
“We don’t even look at color,” Gross said. “I know who I am. I know where I came from in this department and how it used to be. I see the officers as blue.”
Rivers, who has collaborated in the city’s law enforcement efforts, said White was a victim of the city’s failure to properly vet him.
“In other words, the guy that gets jacked up is the person who’s actually a victim because you made a hire without doing your due diligence,” Rivers said. “Now you’re going to humiliate him, [someone] who’s not guilty of a crime.”
All of the speakers at Wednesday’s press conference were men.
Dugan Arnett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.