The ugly legal and family drama involving suspended Boston Police Commissioner Dennis White has taken varied and complicated turns, and drawn in a long list of people along the way.
White, who is awaiting Acting Mayor Kim Janey’s decision on whether he’ll be ousted as the city’s top cop, was put on leave days into the job in February when the Globe inquired about a 1999 allegation of domestic abuse against him. Former mayor Martin J. Walsh had appointed White, skipping the usual vetting process, before leaving to become labor secretary in Washington.
With so many fast-moving developments and complex relationships, here is a list of all the players involved and the roles they played in the saga:
The second Black man to hold the post, then-Superintendent Dennis White was sworn in as Boston Police’s 43rd commissioner on Feb. 1, vowing to overhaul the force after a national reckoning over the deaths of Black men at the hands of police, sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
But two days into the job, White, a 32-year veteran of the force, was placed on leave after the Globe reported that White was accused of pushing, hitting, and threatening to shoot his wife, a fellow Boston police officer. A judge issued a restraining order against him on May 5, 1999, forcing him to leave his home, stay away from his wife and children, and surrender his service weapon.
In response to the revelations, the city hired an independent investigator to look further into the allegations, and her final report, released in May, included even more disturbing details.
White has denied the allegations and said he was actually the victim of domestic violence at the hands of his former wife. He has also said he should not be fired because former mayor Walsh was aware of his history when he named White as commissioner. Walsh denies this.
When Janey moved to fire White, he filed an injunction to stop her. White followed that with an appeal, which was rejected when a judge sided against him. His legal moves bought him some time, but now, after Janey held a hearing Wednesday, her decision is pending.
Martin J. Walsh
Former Boston mayor Martin J. Walsh was soon to be on his way out of office, headed to become President Joe Biden’s labor secretary in Washington, when William Gross abruptly announced his retirement as police commissioner. Upon Gross’s recommendation, Walsh named White as the new commissioner and opted to appoint him permanently rather than in an interim capacity. The decision came out in a press release on Jan. 28, and White was sworn in on Feb. 1.
There was no national search for candidates, no public input, and none of the usual vetting processes that precede such a high-level appointment. White wasn’t even interviewed.
Almost immediately, Walsh faced a backlash for the appointment. As the Globe inquired about White’s 1999 domestic violence allegation, Walsh placed the commissioner on leave.
Walsh maintains he had no prior knowledge of White’s history. But White and Gross have refuted that claim in sworn statements. White said he told Walsh in various conversations about the restraining order issued against him when he was accused in the late 1990s of threatening to shoot his former wife.
Former police commissioner William Gross retired abruptly in January after more than two years as top cop of the country’s oldest police department. Boston’s first Black police commissioner, Gross said he always planned to step down when Walsh left office. He privately confided to Walsh that he had suffered a serious health concern. Gross recommended his friend and chief of staff White replace him.
After Walsh said he was in the dark about White’s alleged domestic abuse history, Gross said in a sworn affidavit that he reviewed White’s internal affairs history in 2014 and presented those findings to Walsh. The contradiction exposed a fraying relationship between the former mayor and the former police commissioner, self-described longtime friends from Dorchester.
Kim Janey, who was City Council president when Walsh departed, took over as acting mayor in March and inherited the White scandal left behind. When the city released a scathing independent investigator’s report in May, detailing disturbing allegations against White, Janey pushed to fire the police commissioner. Instead, she found herself dragged into a tumultuous legal battle.
White fought back by asking a Suffolk Superior Court judge to halt his dismissal, with his lawyers arguing the city was aware of his history and that he deserves a hearing to present his own witnesses to refute the allegations in the report. White’s lawyers also questioned whether Janey, as acting mayor, had the legal authority to fire the commissioner.
The judge ruled against White, who appealed and was rejected again. White did manage to buy himself some time, and Janey held a private termination hearing on Wednesday allowing him to present sworn video statements from family members who said White was in fact the victim of domestic violence rather than the perpetrator.
White’s fate as commissioner now rests in Janey’s hands, and she has said she will announce her decision “after careful deliberation.”
William B. Evans
William B. Evans, who was promoted from acting to permanent Boston police commissioner by Walsh in 2014, has denied knowing about White’s history of alleged domestic violence when White was promoted to command staff in 2014. He said he could not have told Walsh about the allegations because he himself was not made aware.
White and witnesses called upon by his lawyers have disputed this and said Evans was briefed on White’s internal affairs file.
Evans was succeeded by Gross, who recommended White to replace him when he retired.
Tamsin Kaplan, a respected employment lawyer, was hired by the city to investigate the allegations of domestic violence involving White. The report she delivered went beyond detailing disturbing abuse allegations; it described a culture of secrecy within the BPD and detailed encounters of officials stalling and otherwise interfering with her investigation.
Kaplan, who works for the firm Davis Malm, took on the White report as her first independent investigation on behalf of the city.
The explosive report sparked a legal battle between White and Janey and put pressure on Walsh in his new post in Washington.
The city’s top lawyer under Walsh, then-corporation counsel Eugene O’Flaherty, appeared in the report to be flip-flopping on how long Kaplan had to investigate. O’Flaherty initially told Kaplan to investigate White “to the fullest extent possible.” Kaplan expected the work to take several weeks, but 10 days in, O’Flaherty told her to end the investigation, according to the report. Though O’Flaherty soon reversed that decision, White then refused to cooperate, saying the city was not conducting the investigation in good faith.
O’Flaherty, Walsh’s close political confidante, left city government shortly before the mayor departed to head the US Department of Labor. Lobbying firm Ballard Partners announced it had hired O’Flaherty, who, federal disclosure records show, is being paid to try to exert influence at the Department of Labor and elsewhere.
Dennis White’s former wife
White’s ex-wife, a current Boston police officer, told multiple people about the abuse she said White inflicted in the 1990s, according to the independent investigator’s report. Sybil Mason said White had burned her hair, put her face to the stove and tried to turn it on, stepped on her face, and thrown a TV at her, among other allegations, the report said. A witness also told the investigator that Mason had reported abuse to Boston Police’s Domestic Violence Unit multiple times. She obtained a restraining order against White in 1999.
Mason said she kept a diary documenting her experiences and shared notes with a relative for safekeeping. “If anything happens to me, I want you to have this diary. . . . If anything happens to me, it would be Dennis,” she told the relative, according to Kaplan’s report.
White and his legal team have argued that he was actually the victim, and his ex-wife the perpetrator. They say her allegations “are contradicted by her own recorded statement to the police and the court in 1999 that there was ‘no physical abuse’ in Dennis White’s relationship with her.”
But in an interview this week with public radio station WBUR, Mason spoke out against what she called “lies,” and said she was physically and emotionally abused throughout what she described as a toxic marriage. She also said White had coerced her into sexual situations.
The Globe does not identify victims of domestic violence, unless they agree to be named, as Mason did for several recent media interviews.
White submitted two video affidavits in his defense from his adult daughter Tiffany and his former sister-in-law Connie Owens. The two portrayed him as a victim of domestic violence and said that his former wife had abused their daughter as well. Tiffany White said her mother punched her in the back as a child, according to White’s lawyer, Nicholas Carter.
Carter said neither Tiffany White nor Owens were interviewed by the independent investigator.
On Tuesday evening, the younger of White’s two adult daughters, Brittany, went live on Facebook in an hourlong video describing her parents’ relationship as chaotic and dysfunctional. She said her mother was abused “emotionally, mentally, and physically,” and that she was only speaking out after her father decided to “bash my mom to keep his job.” Brittany White also said her father slapped and hit her on multiple occasions, which Dennis White then denied.
Paul F. Evans and Thomas A. Dowd
When White was accused of threatening to shoot his former wife in 1999, internal affairs had originally found him to be in neglect of duty and unreasonable judgment. But that finding was later downgraded to “filed” on the recommendation of Superintendent Thomas A. Dowd, and with the approval of then-Police Commissioner Paul F. Evans (whose brother, William B. Evans, became commissioner later as well). White revealed during the independent investigation that he had spoken to his commanding officer about making the change and was told, “Let me speak with the higher-ups.”
Retired police superintendent Frank Mancini is another witness White’s lawyers brought on to bolster his claims that senior leadership knew about his past. Under oath, Mancini said in a video that was released by White’s lawyers Tuesday that he accessed White’s internal affairs files in 2014 and summarized the records for the chief of staff of then-acting commissioner William B. Evans before then-mayor Walsh promoted White to command staff.
As chief of professional standards, Mancini said he vetted all candidates for command staff, including a slew of promotions shortly after Walsh became mayor in 2014.
Evans and Walsh both deny being briefed about White’s history of alleged domestic violence.
A 19-year-old alleged victim
In a 1993 altercation detailed in the investigator’s report, a 19-year-old woman known to White alleged that he punched her, threw her down the stairs and out his front door, calling her a “whore” after she had rejected a sexual advance by White and told his wife about it.
White admitted only to hitting her with an open hand after she kicked him in a knee that had recently undergone surgery. Each filed a claim against the other that was dismissed by the court, though she was granted a protection from abuse order.
Internal affairs found that White did not violate any BPD rules, and that his strike was a “reflexive self-defense response.”