Suffolk County’s sheriff, who is the head of a local Black law enforcement organization, is calling for Boston Police Commissioner Dennis White to be reinstated if the probe into a 1999 domestic abuse allegation against the city’s top cop drags on.
“We believe that Dennis White would be a good leader for the Boston Police Department,” Steven W. Tompkins, Suffolk sheriff and president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives of Massachusetts, told the Globe Tuesday in a phone interview.
Earlier this month, Mayor Martin J. Walsh placed White on leave two days after his promotion to police commissioner amid revelations of allegations that White had pushed and threatened to shoot his then-wife, also a police officer, 22 years earlier. In court documents, White denied the allegations and no criminal charges were filed against him. But a restraining order signed by a judge forced White to vacate his home, stay away from his wife and children, and surrender his service weapon.
Conflicting statements, private and public, have come from his family since White’s suspension.
The city has hired an outside attorney to probe the matter, an investigation that Walsh’s office expects to conclude in coming weeks.
On Tuesday, Tompkins said that White, a 32-year veteran officer who is the second Black head of the nation’s oldest police force, should be afforded “the opportunity to state his case,” adding that “the facts need to come out” in a fair process. Walsh has said that Boston police did not notify his office of the allegations before he promoted White to commissioner.
“The guy was just removed from his position without having the opportunity to have his say,” said Tompkins, who emphasized that he was not criticizing Walsh for putting White on leave.
Tompkins commented days after NOBLE Massachusetts, the Black law enforcement group he is president of, had full-page ads in The Boston Globe and Boston Herald calling for an “equitable process in which a decision on his candidacy can be accomplished,” and stating that it “is the position of NOBLE Massachusetts that Dennis White should be reinstated as Commissioner of the Boston Police Department.”
The ads were paid for by Friends of the Boston Police, a nonprofit that aims to “provide funding for equipment, training and technology that directly impacts its rank and file members.”
Citing the ongoing investigation, Walsh’s office declined to comment on the ads.
On Tuesday, Tompkins said that if the probe is going to be wrapped up soon, he could understand holding off on White’s reinstatement, but if the investigation is going to last months, White should be reinstated now. He said NOBLE Massachusetts stands against domestic violence.
“I have no idea what happened between him and his ex-wife,” Tompkins said.
White’s future may not be decided by Walsh, who is expected to leave City Hall any day now to become the nation’s next labor secretary. City Council President Kim Janey will become acting mayor once that happens.
The ads list members of NOBLE’s executive board, including Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins; Cambridge Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr.; the executive secretary of the Cambridge Police Review and Advisory Board, Brian Corr; and White’s predecessor as police commissioner, William G. Gross.
Through a spokesman, Bard deferred comment to Tompkins. Corr declined to comment. Attempts to reach Gross failed on Tuesday.
In a statement, a Rollins spokesman said the district attorney neither saw nor approved the text of the ad that ran last week. The DA did approve a different NOBLE letter supportive of White, according to her office.
“As District Attorney, I work hard every day to change the culture and perception of law enforcement,” Rollins said. “My efforts are centered on the fundamental principles of accountability, transparency and community involvement. They are part of our mission; both internally and externally.”
Rollins said that the “surprising resignation of Commissioner Gross, abrupt appointment of Commissioner White, and then immediate decision to place him on administrative leave were void of those fundamental principles.”
“Instability and confusion ensued and are now distracting from the collective efforts of law enforcement to keep our communities in Suffolk County safe,” she said. “I am thankful for the steady leadership of acting Commissioner Long during this time and looking forward to expedient and decisive action regarding this matter.”
The Boston Police Department has declined the Globe’s request for White’s internal affairs records since his appointment was announced Jan. 28. The department said the “ongoing investigation” justified withholding all of White’s internal affairs records, including a case that is nearly 30 years old.
The Globe has appealed the denial to the state’s supervisor of records.
With White’s future at the Police Department in limbo, limbo, his family history has spilled into public view.
The Globe is not identifying White’s former wife or the couple’s two daughters because of the allegation of domestic violence. Radio station GBH recently interviewed White’s older daughter, who is now 38 and told the station the allegations against her father are untrue.
”It was a lie,” said the daughter, adding, “I can 100 percent guarantee everything on my soul — I would put that on the line — that man has never hit my mother. Ever.”
The GBH interview did not address specifics of all the accusations, which stemmed in part from a charge levied by the older daughter, who was then 16.
On May 5, 1999, the older daughter told a detective that her father had told her not to startle him when she went upstairs because, he said, “I sleep with a gun under my pillow.”
”She thought the comment by her father was a warning,” the detective wrote in a summary of the interview, which was included in the couple’s divorce file.
At the time, White’s wife was a patrol officer. She told the detective that “she felt the department was not taking her seriously,” so she took her domestic abuse allegations to Dorchester District Court, where a judge issued a restraining order against the future commissioner.
White’s former wife declined to comment, but she posted a message on Facebook saying she wanted to “set the record straight” after her older daughter disavowed the abuse allegations.
”Since you all think that I am a liar . . . Now the truth will come out,” wrote the former wife. “And you know who you are . . . you have just opened Pandora’s Box.”
White’s younger daughter pushed back against her older sister’s claim in a post on her Facebook page:
”We all know ur dad’s favorite and u got a personal vendetta with ma, but that man ain’t innocent. Maybe he changed, but he aint been this perfect innocent man u all claim him to be.”
The Globe was sent a screenshot of the younger daughter’s Facebook post, which is no longer public. In a subsequent post, the younger daughter noted there was a flood of calls and messages after she wrote about her “family drama.” The younger daughter declined to comment when contacted by the Globe.