Boston Acting Mayor Kim Janey pushed to oust embattled Police Commissioner Dennis White Friday with the release of a scathing investigative report that detailed a pattern of alleged domestic violence by White and a culture of fear and coverup within the Boston Police Department.
White is fighting his dismissal and asked a Suffolk Superior Court judge to stop Janey, arguing that the acting mayor did not have authority or cause to fire him, a move that plunged the police force into further uncertainty.
Former mayor Martin J. Walsh appointed White in late January, then suspended him days later amid Globe inquiries into White’s past, leaving the department in limbo for more than three months as political pressure mounted on a new City Hall administration.
“I think it is time to move the department forward,” Janey said at a press conference Friday afternoon just as she released the report. “This cloud cannot continue if we want to move the department forward.”
The investigative report released Friday raised new questions about the handling of White’s appointment by Walsh, who is now US labor secretary. After launching the outside probe of White’s background and his selection, the Walsh administration prematurely tried to end the investigation, according to the report, while the mayor’s federal nomination moved forward. Messages left with Walsh were not returned Friday.
The 19-page document, completed by outside attorney Tamsin Kaplan, painted a damning portrait of an institution that allegedly protected its own, ignored complaints of abuse, and minimized — and allegedly covered up — allegations against White. The department also appeared to have retaliated against domestic violence investigators who tried to fully investigate one of their own, according to the report.
“The investigation revealed a culture of fear and silence within the Boston Police Department,” Janey said. “Sworn officers refused to speak to investigators, frustrating efforts to uncover the truth. What is often referred to as a blue wall of silence was confirmed by one retired officer, who said he received five phone calls, directing him not to cooperate with this investigation.”
The probe, Janey continued, “reveals a misguided department culture,” and “Dennis White’s own admitted behavior does not reflect our values.”
White’s lawyer said Janey called White Friday morning to tell him she intended to remove him as commissioner. Janey told reporters she can’t name White’s successor until his own status with the department is resolved.
“The future leadership of the Boston Police Department is an urgent matter as we move our city forward,” Janey said. “But I ask for our city’s patience as we await” the resolution of White’s legal challenge.
Janey also said she would convene a committee, led by the Rev. Rahsaan Hall and city emergency management chief Shumeane Benford, to look at the department’s future. She will also require background checks for all candidates for police leadership and push for a stronger policy against domestic violence in the department, though she did not provide details.
The report revealed that White had been the subject of a previously undisclosed restraining order in 1993 for what the future commissioner described as “heated fisticuffs” with a 19-year-old woman. White told internal affairs investigators at the time that he hit the woman “with a full swing of his arm and an open hand” in self defense after she kicked him.
The city’s investigator also described four witnesses who alleged that White’s abuse of his first wife was much worse than has been previously disclosed, and included allegations of him holding her face to a stove, burning her hair, and kicking and choking her. The investigator wrote “it was confirmed” that White’s former wife “repeatedly reported both physical and mental abuse” to the department but the department’s internal affairs office did not investigate until she sought a restraining order in May 1999.
The report also documented the department’s pattern of protecting its own. The city’s investigator tried to contact 21 witnesses regarding White, but only seven agreed to speak to her.
White himself offered limited cooperation with the probe. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, could not be immediately reached for comment.
His attorney, Nicholas Carter, said at a press conference Friday evening that Janey had overstepped her legal authority by seeking to remove White without proper notice, and that there was no cause to remove White.
”Acting Mayor Janey ambushed Commissioner White this morning after months and weeks of trying to get information and have a dialogue, which she and the city refused,” he said.
”The city does not have evidence and is basing their case on rumor and hearsay,” he added. “We intend to demonstrate to the court that the process here has been improper and he deserves to be reinstated as commissioner.”
Carter filed a court motion requesting a restraining order and a preliminary injunction that would prevent Janey from firing White.
The debate over White’s future has presented a complicated test for Janey, who as acting mayor is Boston’s first Black person and first woman to lead City Hall. Janey is campaigning to be elected in her own right this fall, and several groups rallied to the defense of White, who was the city’s second Black commissioner.
The controversy began Jan. 28, when Walsh unexpectedly appointed White commissioner. With the same press release, Walsh announced the retirement of the city’s first Black police commissioner, William Gross, and the ascension of White, a 32-year veteran officer little known outside the department.
Gross urged the mayor to appoint White, who was his chief of staff and longtime friend.
There was no public process, no vetting, no other candidates considered. Walsh did not interview White for the job.
But a day after White took the oath as Boston’s 43rd police commissioner, the Globe reported that a judge had issued a restraining order against him in 1999. White had been accused of pushing and threatening to shoot his then-wife, who was also a police officer.
The mayor, who was in Washington for his nomination hearing, immediately placed White on leave while a lawyer conducted “full and impartial investigation.”
That investigation began Feb. 12 with a broad mandate. Walsh’s longtime confidante, then-Corporation Counsel Eugene O’Flaherty, told Kaplan to vet White “to the fullest extent possible,” according to the recently released report. Kaplan told the city it would take four to six weeks, and maybe more.
But Kaplan’s marching orders changed. Just 12 days into her work, O’Flaherty directed Kaplan to cut short her investigation and briefly summarize her findings, according to the report.
The report did not explain why the investigation was halted, but at the time rumors swirled in political circles that the probe was over. Then a week later, Kaplan was ordered to restart the investigation.
The report noted that White was first flagged to the Boston Police Department for concerning behavior in 1993. On the night of Sept. 10, White and a 19-year-old woman who had belongings in White’s house along with a key, had a dispute over her moving out and $10 White said he was owed.
The woman, whose identity was not released, said White was trying to eject her from the premises and allegedly threw her down the stairs inside the house. She said he then pushed her out onto the porch and punched her, then pulled her sweat shirt over her head before hitting her once more and calling her a “whore,” according to the report.
White, in his account to the lawyer, contended that the woman was moving out already and claimed he only hit her with an open hand in self-defense after she cursed, attacked him, and kicked his knee which he recently had surgery on.
A neighbor across the street said he witnessed part of the fight, including the woman — described as “small and thin” — cursing at White and kicking him before White slapped her.
White and the young woman filed complaints against each other for assault and battery, though both were eventually dismissed in court, according to the report. The woman obtained a one-year abuse prevention order, while White’s own request for one was denied.
The city’s recent investigation also described an allegation that White, then 32, had previously made a sexual advance toward the woman, and that her rejection prompted White to eject her from the family home. White denied the claim.
Six months after the incident, an internal affairs investigation did not sustain an allegation of “physical abuse” stemming from the fight. The description of the allegation was later changed to “use of force,” according to the Kaplan report, although there is no indication that White was on duty at the time of the incident.
The newly released investigative report also included new details about how the department handled 1999 domestic abuse allegations from White’s first marriage. At the time, White was a sergeant and outranked his then-wife, who was a police officer.
In February, the Globe cited court records in which White’s former wife said she sought a restraining order against White because she believed “the department was not taking her seriously” when she reported abuse.
The report released Friday quoted an unnamed witness who said White’s former wife made multiple complaints to the department’s domestic violence unit about physical abuse.
“The witness told me, ‘[the] history of Dennis is known by everyone in the department,’” the investigator wrote, adding that the issue was “’of grave concern at the time,’ and that ‘[f]or anyone within the department to allude that this is not the case is dishonest.’”
Officers in the domestic violence unit did their job, according to the witness, and they paid the price because White was a police officer. Personnel records confirmed that one of the officers who investigated White’s case was transferred out of the unit.
The witness said that Domestic Violence Unit staff “‘had hoped that credibility and professionalism would surpass other interests in the BPD,’” according to the report. “But they had ‘been through hell and back’ due to retaliation against them as a result of the White case.”
As White’s internal affairs case worked its way up the chain of command, the department’s culture once again allegedly protected him. Initially, internal affairs sustained an administrative charge against White for sleeping with a gun under his pillow. But White objected to the finding, according to the report.
With then-Commissioner Paul F. Evans’s approval, the finding was changed from “sustained” to “filed” — a designation that put the matter on “file” without a disposition, essentially putting it in purgatory.
Adrian Walker and Danny McDonald of the Globe staff contributed to this report.