What a disaster.
Nobody looks good in the report by an independent investigator into Boston Police Commissioner Dennis White, placed on leave in February — right after he was appointed — because of 1999 domestic abuse allegations uncovered by the Globe.
Not White, that’s for sure. Not former mayor Marty Walsh, who made White commissioner without checking him out. And certainly not the obstructionist Boston Police Department that White was hastily chosen to lead after his friend William Gross abruptly stepped down after a health scare.
Acting Mayor Kim Janey wants to turn the page on this debacle, but White isn’t having it. On Friday, he sought an injunction to prevent her from removing him, thwarting her plans to name his replacement, and derailing her announcement of new measures to beef up background checks and combat domestic violence in the police ranks.
All of this could have been avoided.
It’s clearer now than ever that Walsh — consumed with his confirmation as US labor secretary — rushed to appoint White based solely on Gross’s recommendation, and without the vetting that would have revealed even more numerous and disturbing domestic abuse allegations than those my colleague Andrew Ryan uncovered via a search of court records.
In addition to the 1999 case, in which White’s then-wife alleged he pushed and hit her and told someone he wanted to shoot her — allegations which White has denied — there was a 1993 incident in which a then 19-year-old who lived in his house accused White of physically abusing her. White has denied those allegations too, saying he was defending himself against the teen after she attacked him. An internal affairs investigation did not sustain the earlier abuse allegation.
Interviews by the investigator, attorney Tamsin Kaplan of Davis Malm, revealed yet more disturbing claims: The woman from the 1993 incident alleged that White had made sexual advances towards her, and thrown her out of the house for rejecting him. And four other witnesses told Kaplan they recollected contemporaneous accounts by White’s former wife of stomach-turning abuse, including choking. They said she had reported the incidents multiple times, to no effect, until she obtained a restraining order against him in 1999. White denied all of these allegations.
An internal affairs investigation did not sustain the abuse allegations by his former wife, but did find that White had neglected his duty and exercised unreasonable judgment for telling someone he wanted to shoot her. Even that diluted finding didn’t stick for long: In 2001, its status was changed from “Sustained” to “Filed” at White’s request, and with the approval of his higher-ups, including then-police commissioner Paul F. Evans.
A witness told Kaplan that police who took the abuse allegations against White seriously were retaliated against, that Domestic Violence Unit officers had “been through hell and back” for following through on the claims.
This is hardly the stuff that inspires confidence in the police’s ability to hold their own accountable. It’s possible White was entirely innocent of all of these accusations, but Lord, there is a sea of red flags here — one the former mayor had a duty to wade into before he elevated White.
But there’s another story in the report, and it is bigger than the police commissioner. It’s what Janey called a “culture of fear and silence” in the Boston Police Department. The Kaplan report cites numerous instances in which police declined to cooperate with her investigation, in ways big and small.
“One retired BPD officer told me that they had received at least five phone calls directing them not to talk with me,” Kaplan wrote.
She had to use a private investigator to get contact information for some officers she wanted to interview because she couldn’t get it from the police department. She tried to contact 21 witnesses, including 12 current and retired police officers and 9 civilians: She was able to speak with only 7 of them. She was told some of the records documenting the abuse allegations did not exist, even though multiple reports were made to the department’s Domestic Violence Unit.
Even if Janey succeeds in removing White, the blue wall that tried to obstruct this investigation — the same one that resists accountability more generally and has brought us to this painful moment of national reckoning — will remain. What can any mayor do about that?
White not only benefitted from that wall, he was part of it. He initially refused to cooperate, Kaplan wrote. Then he wanted the inquiry limited only to specific allegations from 1999, and refused to submit to a full background check.
White’s attorney has rejected the report in its entirety, calling it biased and inaccurate. And good Bostonians who care about police reform have said White is being treated unfairly.
Their views would have more weight if police hadn’t obstructed so hard here.
And we wouldn’t even be here in the first place if the former mayor hadn’t demonstrated such poor judgment that the president who made him a cabinet secretary should be having second thoughts.