A Suffolk Superior Court judge on Tuesday rejected Boston Police Commissioner Dennis White’s attempt to block his firing, a decision that clears the way for Acting Mayor Kim Janey to resume her effort to dismiss White following decades-old domestic violence allegations.
Judge Heidi Brieger denied White’s motion for a preliminary injunction, in a ruling that had been anxiously awaited by City Hall and by White since a hearing on Thursday.
Janey signaled Tuesday that she plans to move forward with firing White. She applauded Brieger’s ruling and said she will inform White “of his rescheduled Zoom hearing,” a reference to a hearing the city must hold before Janey can legally fire White.
“It is time to move our City and the Boston Police Department forward,” Janey said in a statement.
White’s attorney, Nicholas B. Carter, said his client “respects the court and will be exercising his right of appeal.”
White was placed on leave in February, two days after he was sworn in, following questions about years-old domestic violence allegations. After Janey moved to oust him from his post, White countered by filing a request for a restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop his removal.
That thwarted Janey — at least temporarily — from firing White and replacing him with a new commissioner. The legal standoff has brought more uncertainty and controversy to the police force, which has been buffeted by scandal in recent months.
An independent investigation into White released earlier this month detailed a pattern of alleged domestic abuse by White and a culture of fear and coverup within the Police Department.
White was accused in 1999 of striking and threatening to shoot his then-wife, also a Boston police officer, as well as allegedly hitting a 19-year-old woman in a separate incident in 1993. He was never convicted of any crime and has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
At last week’s court hearing, Carter argued there was no cause to fire White and “no actual evidence” to back up the accusations. He also disparaged the report that detailed the allegations against White, saying it was “highly defamatory” and relied on “unidentified witnesses, perhaps entirely on hearsay.”
On Tuesday, Carter sent a letter to Janey and the city’s attorneys stating that White is requesting a hearing where the city brings forward witnesses that Janey is relying on in her decision to fire White.
The hearing, Carter said, should determine if there is cause for firing White and give him the opportunity to prove his innocence and clear his name. Carter wants the hearing to be public and for both sides to exchange witness lists.
Carter is also asking for access to the file compiled by the independent investigator, attorney Tamsin Kaplan, including the names of the witnesses referenced in the final report and Kaplan’s communications with them. He also wants communications between Janey and the investigator, White’s internal affairs file, and the internal affairs file for his former wife, who is also a police officer.
“It is now becoming clearer that the investigator was biased and seeking a pre-determined outcome,” Carter wrote in the letter.
Carter claimed that investigator never tried to speak with one of White’s daughters who he says “was an eyewitness to her parents’ relationship and what happened in the household.”
Earlier this year, White’s older daughter told radio station GBH that the domestic violence allegations were a lie and that “that man has never hit my mother.” The commissioner’s younger daughter pushed back against her older sister’s claim in a Facebook post, writing that, “we all know ur dad’s favorite and u got a personal vendetta with ma, but that man ain’t innocent.”
“Commissioner White is facing an all too familiar circumstance for a Black man,” Carter wrote in his letter to the city Tuesday. “Any charge of violence against him is presumed to be true, allegations are made up to control and punish him, and he is not afforded due process when accused.”
He continued, “The Acting Mayor and City’s actions have deeply harmed him and his family.”
Brieger, in her ruling, said White was not entitled to an injunction “because he is unlikely to succeed on the merits and has failed to show irreparable harm.”
Beyond his lawsuit, White has limited legal options, said Nancy Gertner, a retired federal judge and senior lecturer at Harvard Law School.
“The ruling today is essentially a prediction by Judge Brieger that he’s not likely to succeed,” she said, noting that the law is also ambiguous about the kind of hearing White could expect before he is removed.
Janey “offered a hearing, but he’s saying that’s not enough,” she said. “What he’s really saying is, I want a forum where I can defend myself.”
White could also use his suit as leverage for a settlement with the city, Gertner acknowledged. In the interim, Janey could also move forward with another commissioner, though her legal standing to do so might be in question, she added.
The White case has become a significant political issue in Boston, with all six major mayoral candidates saying that White could not continue as the police commissioner.
Additionally, former police commissioner William Gross, who is White’s friend and predecessor as the department’s leader, said in an explosive court filing last week that former mayor Martin J. Walsh knew about White’s internal affairs history when Walsh appointed him to lead the force.
Such a claim directly contradicted Walsh, who has insisted since February that he did not know about the accusations detailed in the commissioner’s internal affairs history. Walsh has since repeated that he did not know of the accusations, and his account was backed up by another former commissioner, William Evans.
The most recent development in the White case comes during a time when the Police Department is embroiled in controversy and major changes to policing in the city are being implemented. In addition to the allegations lodged against White, a recent Globe investigation revealed the department determined in 1995 that Patrick M. Rose Sr., the onetime president of the city’s powerful patrolmen’s union, had more than likely molested a 12-year-old child. The department had repeatedly refused to release the case files or discuss why Rose, who is now charged with sexually abusing five additional children, continued as a patrolman and had access to children.
Rose has maintained his innocence and pleaded not guilty to related charges.
On the same day White’s motion for an injunction was denied, federal prosecutors announced a former Boston police sergeant was charged and has agreed to plead guilty in connection with an ongoing investigation of overtime fraud at the department’s evidence warehouse. William Baxter is the 12th officer to be charged in the investigation of overtime fraud at the warehouse.
Earlier this month, Stephanie Everett started her tenure as executive director of Boston’s first Office of Police Accountability and Transparency, a new city police watchdog, and Janey committed $1 million to its operations under a new budget. Janey has directed Everett to deliver a plan to review and potentially reform the Police Department’s internal affairs procedures in coming weeks.
Creating the office was one of the key recommendations laid out six months ago by the Boston Police Reform Task Force, which Walsh commissioned in response to protests calling for police reform, amid a nationwide reckoning over systemic racism and abuse in policing.
Elizabeth Koh of the Globe staff contributed to this report.