Former police commissioner William Gross said in an explosive court filing released Wednesday that former Boston mayor Martin J. Walsh knew about domestic violence allegations against Dennis White when Walsh appointed him to lead the force, an allegation that dragged Walsh, now the US secretary of labor, deeper into a controversy that has engulfed the Police Department.
Gross’s assertion was backed up by White, his successor as commissioner, who said that his internal affairs file was reviewed as part of his vetting process and that Walsh approved his promotion.
The claims by White and Gross, outlined in two sworn affidavits, directly contradicted Walsh, who has insisted since February that he did not know about the accusations detailed in the commissioner’s internal affairs history.
“There is no way anyone is brought onto the command staff without such a briefing to the mayor and approval by the mayor,” said Gross in his two-page affidavit. “The city, including Mayor Walsh, was aware no later than January 2014 of White’s IA [internal affairs] record.”
The affidavits were filed by White’s attorney ahead of a Suffolk Superior Court hearing on Thursday to contest White’s ouster by Acting Mayor Kim Janey. The documents offered a preview of what is an increasingly bitter and personal fight between some of Boston’s highest profile public officials over their own future and the leadership of the nation’s oldest police department.
In a statement Wednesday night, Walsh reiterated that he didn’t know that White had been accused in 1999 of striking and threatening to shoot his then-wife, who is also a Boston police officer, as well as allegedly hitting a 19-year-old woman in a separate incident in 1993.
“As I said on February 3, I was not aware of these serious allegations until after I appointed White as police commissioner,” Walsh said in a statement released by the Department of Labor. “Neither the allegations nor the internal affairs files were shared with me in 2014, or during any other consideration of Dennis White. Had I known, I would not have chosen him for police commissioner or any other role.”
Walsh’s account was backed up by the commissioner at the time, William Evans, who said in an interview Wednesday night that he and Walsh were unaware of White’s background.
The court filings on Wednesday triggered opposing comments from two other former police commissioners, putting an entire generation of police leadership at odds about the protocol for vetting the department’s command staff.
The struggle over control of the department will move Thursday morning to the court, where a judge will consider White’s request for a restraining order and a preliminary injunction to block his removal.
White’s attorney has said his client did nothing during his two days as commissioner to warrant his removal. Some legal experts say the city’s firing of someone with cause could be complicated by allegations that were known when the individual was placed in the position.
As Walsh prepared to leave office for Washington D.C., he hastily appointed White police commissioner without any vetting. Walsh has said he relied on the advice of Gross, who recommended his longtime friend and top deputy. Two days after White took office, when the Globe inquired about decades-old domestic violence allegations, Walsh immediately suspended his commissioner.
“These disturbing issues were not known to me or my staff, but should have been at the forefront,” Walsh said on Feb. 3 from Washington, D.C., as he prepared for a nomination hearing to become President Biden’s labor secretary.
The legal filings Wednesday did more than undercut Walsh’s version of events. In White’s affidavit, the commissioner said that while he was on administrative leave he did not hear from Walsh until last Friday, when the Janey administration released a scathing report from an outside investigator that outlined more domestic violence allegations. In a footnote in the filing, White wrote that Walsh reached out to him.
“He called to apologize,” White wrote.
After news of the affidavits broke Wednesday, Evans jumped to Walsh’s defense, saying in a phone interview that he was outraged, “as much as the mayor,” when he heard about White’s history of alleged abuse.
Evans, who was the commissioner in 2014, took direct aim at the accusation that Walsh was briefed on White’s internal affairs history.
“That’s not true,” Evans said, adding that, “under no circumstances did I know about his past nor did the mayor know.”
Contradicting Gross, Evans said mayors typically did not review the internal affairs files for command staff posts. If he had known about the allegations against White, Evans said, he would never have had him on his command staff and “I’m sure the mayor would never have allowed him to be appointed.”
However, former police commissioner Edward F. Davis said Wednesday that he would brief the mayor on command staff appointments, a statement that supported Gross’s version of events.
“The process that Willie described is consistent with the way I operated,” said Davis, who served as commissioner from 2006 to 2013 under mayor Thomas M. Menino.
Gross could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.
The Janey administration declined to comment. However the city’s most recent legal filings offered additional insight into the acting mayor’s attempt to fire White. In a May 14 letter to White, Janey delineated four bullet points explaining why she wanted to remove him as commissioner.
She cited the two complaints of domestic abuse against White and noted that he had “failed to demonstrate an appreciation for the public’s concern about these incidents.”
“Your approach to the concerns raised about the domestic violence allegations against you was consistently dismissive and uncooperative, which reflects poor judgment given your role as the leader of the BPD that is regularly called upon to address domestic violence in our community,” Janey wrote.
The acting mayor also noted that White initially refused to complete forms for a background check and despite being on administrative leave, he appeared at Boston police headquarters. His presence there, Janey wrote, was “a reminder of the power of the police commissioner and may have intimidated some of the witnesses who were asked to participate in the independent investigation.”
City lawyers also contended an injunction would not be in the public interest, writing “Boston and its citizens would plainly suffer more significant harm by an order requiring the city to keep in place a police commissioner whom Acting Mayor Janey believes does not possess the qualities essential to lead the Boston Police Department going forward.”
In White’s filings, the commissioner again vigorously denied all allegations of domestic abuse and took issue with the way he was characterized in the report released by the city’s independent investigator.
The 19-page report, White said, “has had a devastating effect on me . . . it has caused terrible pain to my family and friends.”
Without a hearing to present evidence and challenge witnesses, he added, “my reputation and ability to work in my profession will be irreparably destroyed.”
White contended that Janey was seeking any reason to terminate him, including at one point investigating whether or not he had satisfied a residency requirement when he served on command staff.
He also denied the allegations in the report, including that he threatened to shoot his former wife before their divorce, or that he had committed domestic violence against a 19-year-old woman before she moved out of his family’s home in 1993.
White agreed to an interview by Zoom with the investigator and said he agreed to answer follow-up questions in writing. But he said the city refused to hand over the investigator’s unredacted report — despite repeated requests — until he was about to be terminated.
Janey, he added, had failed to provide meaningful notice despite telling Superintendent Nora Baston she would be announced shortly as her pick for the next commissioner, two days before White was notified of Janey’s intent to fire him.
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