The Boston Globe filed a lawsuit against the Boston Police Department on Friday, alleging it is wrongly keeping secret the internal investigative files of officers accused of domestic violence or sexual assault.
The lawsuit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, says the police force is unjustly using a law meant to protect domestic violence and rape victims as the basis for withholding records in several high-profile misconduct cases.
The suit asserts the department flouted legal deadlines for answering records requests, improperly withheld records, and ignored demands from the state’s public records supervisor. The newspaper is asking the court to clarify that the law does not exempt internal affairs investigations from being released, as well as order police to release the documents.
“We fully appreciate the challenges of law enforcement in this moment and over time,” said Brian McGrory, the newspaper’s editor. “We do, though, believe it’s important for the public to know more rather than less on vital issues like past allegations against police leadership and the way the department polices itself.”
Sergeant Detective John Boyle, spokesman for Boston Police, declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
The Globe’s lawsuit says the department has shown a pattern of denying records, and cites three instances, including the cases of former patrolman and union president Patrick M. Rose Sr. and suspended commissioner Dennis White.
The department has relied on a victim’s privacy law to withhold some of the documents, the lawsuit says, “despite its acknowledgment that the statute is intended to protect victims, not police officers.”
“The Victim Protection Statute, only applies to certain ‘reports’ of rape and domestic violence, and to ‘communications between police officers and victims,’ ” the suit says. It “does not automatically permit the withholding of all documents showing that a person, and especially a police officer, has been accused of rape or domestic violence.”
The Globe requested all complaints and discipline records in Rose’s file in October 2020, after the Suffolk District Attorney charged Rose with several counts of child rape. The department returned only some files, but declined to provide any files connected to a 1995 case where Rose was first accused of sexually assaulting a minor. An administrative investigation determined Rose had broken the law, but he was later returned to full duty.
The state’s supervisor of public records ordered the police department in January 2021 to explain within 10 days the basis for keeping the files secret. One month later, BPD again cited the victim law in denying the Globe’s request, claiming it was “not possible to redact this document in a manner that would comply with the underlying statute.”
The department has also refused to hand over internal affairs files related to White, claiming similar exemptions.
The Globe requested White’s files days after his surprise appointment in late January. The records contain details of investigations in 1993 for alleged improper use of force, as well as a 1999 inquiry. The Globe found civil court records from 1999 that outline accusations that White pushed and, in a separate incident, allegedly threatened to shoot his then-wife, also a Boston police officer, and was later ordered to stay away from his family.
Walsh then abruptly placed White on leave and said the city would launch a full investigation into how the force handled a 1999 allegation of domestic violence.
Acting Mayor Kim Janey said in early April that she expects the investigation into White to conclude around the end of the month.
The department has also denied the Globe records of a 2005 internal affairs case involving Clifton McHale, a police sergeant who is under investigation after video footage showed him bragging about hitting George Floyd protesters with his car. McHale, a 23-year Boston Police Department veteran with family ties to the department’s upper ranks, was accused in 2005 of sexually assaulting an intoxicated woman while in uniform in a police vehicle and agreed to serve a one-year, unpaid suspension.