The independent investigation of Boston Police Commissioner Dennis White produced a slew of surprising developments and unanswered questions, not least: Who exactly was the lawyer who documented police interference, weathered the city’s attempt to kill the investigation, and produced a series of revelations in decades-old misconduct cases?
Tamsin Kaplan, a respected employment lawyer, was hardly a household name in Boston before the report’s release last Friday, though she did gain some level of acclaim when she was named the funniest lawyer in Massachusetts in 2014.
People who know her described Kaplan, 60, as a confident adviser and litigator who could deliver pragmatic advice to clients while remaining down-to-earth.
Her report showed the hallmarks of her work, in a thorough and unsparing assessment of alleged menacing abuse by the commissioner, as well as what Acting Mayor Kim Janey called “a culture of fear and silence” within the Police Department.
“She told it like it was,” said attorney Jody Newman of Boston Law Collaborative LLC. “That’s what a good independent report would do.”
The 19-page investigative report was undoubtedly one of the splashiest city-sanctioned reports in recent memory, dissecting a department already awash in scandal. Few had expected an employment lawyer from a midsized firm would so decisively take aim at the department’s supposed Blue Wall.
“It’s extraordinarily rare for the public and outside parties to be given this kind of candid in-depth look at what has happened in this case,” said former state inspector general Gregory W. Sullivan, now a research director at the Pioneer Institute. “I can’t really think of another example in Massachusetts of this having occurred.”
Kaplan, who has done similar work for other entities who contract her firm, did not respond to requests for comment. The firm also declined to comment.
The unusual candor of the report — with a level of detail almost never seen in such reviews of Boston police matters — has already spurred calls for action from a bevy of politicians. And it’s likely to have long-lasting reverberations for the city and the Police Department, observers said.
Former mayor Martin J. Walsh, who appointed White in late January, suspended him shortly thereafter and announced an outside independent investigation after the Globe inquired about the new commissioner’s past.
“You want to make sure you’re picking someone whose credibility is well-regarded,” said attorney Lawrence Murray, who said he has known Kaplan professionally for years and spoke on a panel with her in 2018. “I’ve always known her as very detail-oriented, very thorough, very pragmatic. . . . I have the utmost respect for her.”
Kaplan, who graduated from Boston College’s law school in 1992, is involved in several legal associations including the Women’s Bar Association, where she was a board member for several years and even performed standup at a 2014 foundation charity event.
Her strong professional reputation, colleagues said, lends credence to the findings.
The White report was Kaplan’s first such independent investigation on behalf of the city. But her firm Davis Malm — a boutique firm — has held City Hall contracts since at least 2014, Walsh’s first year in office, according to records reviewed by the fiscal watchdog the Boston Finance Commission.
The firm has provided legal advice on telecommunications issues, commercial leases, and other matters. One of Davis Malm’s attorneys, Thomas S. Fitzpatrick, represented the Boston Police Department in a dispute with the city’s drug testing contractor, and recommended Kaplan to the Walsh administration for this task, according to Janey spokesman Nick Martin.
Kaplan’s investigation cost the city $130,389.81 through May 4, Martin said.
Though her independent investigation did not make recommendations, Kaplan methodically detailed allegations against White as well as efforts to stall or hinder her inquiries. Several police officers — including acting commissioner Gregory Long — declined to cooperate, she noted in her report, while one cautioned her about concerns about retaliation among the ranks.
She also indicated throughout her inquiry that she would set her own timeline, telling White’s lawyer in one conversation that “I will not be rushed by anyone,” he asserted in court filings.
The report began with the same approach of other investigations that are conducted for private and public employers. But the public nature of the case paired with the lack of cooperation with the inquiry was highly atypical, if not unheard of, some lawyers said.
“I can’t think of any instance where I was told by people I spoke to that they were pressured to not speak with me,” said Murray, of Burns and Levinson LLP.
The interference with the investigation at its start, he added, also stood out, as did Kaplan’s detailed recounting of that interference: “To her credit I guess she reported it as she saw it.” She sought interviews with 21 people, including 12 current or retired police officers; just seven people consented to answer her questions.
The reaction to Kaplan’s report Friday was swift. Aside from sparking the legal battle between Janey and White, the US Labor Department issued a statement that night defending Walsh’s handling of the White allegations.
“When the allegations arose, then-Mayor Walsh immediately placed the individual on leave and commissioned an independent, outside investigation into the matter,” it said.
The report’s conclusions — and the methodical presentation of her findings — underscored Kaplan’s independence, said Sullivan, the former inspector general.
“It turns out they hired an outside investigator who really and truly was independent,” he said, referencing the early attempt from city officials to squelch her inquiry. “I don’t think they liked it much.”