It has been 22 years since she says he threatened to shoot her — the turning point that finally made her seek a restraining order and leave a tumultuous marriage with the man she considered her one true love.
But last week, it all came flooding back to Sybil Mason when her ex-husband waged a campaign to save his job as Boston’s top police official by trying to discredit her. To rebut allegations that he had abused her, suspended Boston Police Commissioner Dennis White asserted under oath that it was Mason who was the aggressor. He enlisted one of their two adult daughters and Mason’s sister to provide sworn testimony depicting his former wife as violent. Their daughter even provided old photos of Mason’s arms to dispute her mother’s claim that she’d been scarred by White.
Until last week, Mason had tried to steer clear of the public drama that erupted after the Globe revealed that White had been the subject of a restraining order, according to records in his divorce case. Now, she’s speaking out about her frustration in seeing her own experiences negated, and her outrage in watching her ex-husband turn his employment dispute into a referendum on her character.
“I’m not the one on trial here,” Mason said. “I’m not the one going for the job.”
In an extensive interview with the Globe, Mason expanded on frustrations she’d raised publicly earlier last week, after White’s strategy became clear. The Globe does not identify victims of domestic violence unless they agree to be named, as Mason has.
On Wednesday, Acting Mayor Kim Janey held a termination hearing with White, closed to the public, to determine whether she will oust him from the commissioner post. White has been suspended since February over domestic violence allegations from the 1990s, which came to light publicly only after he was appointed by former mayor Martin J. Walsh.
White and his lawyer have repeatedly and forcefully denied allegations of domestic violence that have surfaced during his fight to keep his job. White’s lawyer, Nicholas B. Carter, declined to comment for this story, pointing to past statements and affidavits.
White has asserted that Mason’s allegations are false — and suggested last week that her claims were prompted by his decision to divorce her. “My ex-wife was angry at me for leaving her, and she remains angry at me,” he said in a written statement Wednesday. “She has friends and relatives willing to do her bidding. I suspect they are the ones who have made false allegations of abuse against me.”
At Wednesday’s hearing, White told Janey that he’s the victim of false accusations and racial discrimination.
“I am a Black man, who has been accused falsely of crimes, I have not yet been given a fair trial, and I’m on the brink of being convicted, or terminated which is the equivalent here,” White said during Wednesday’s termination hearing, according to a written transcript of his remarks provided by his legal team. “As you know, that is a pattern that has been repeated in this country for centuries. I believe it will be bad for Boston if that pattern is repeated here with me.”
This has baffled Mason, who said that many people within the Boston Police Department thought her light-skinned former spouse was white.
Mason, too, is a Boston police officer. She, too, is Black.
“If you feel you’re being discriminated against as a Black-white issue, why are you coming after a Black woman?” Mason asked. She said she wished he would simply own up to his mistakes. “All he has to do is just say that when we were younger, we were stupid, we had a terrible relationship, we just didn’t get along. We were kids. We’re adults now.”
A Boston Police Department spokesman did not respond to questions about the commissioner’s strategy for discrediting a fellow police officer who says she is a victim of abuse.
By all accounts — including that of the younger of their two daughters, who publicly defended Mason last week — their relationship was volatile and toxic. Their first violent fight preceded their marriage, as Mason recalled it. She was pregnant with her elder daughter, had just had surgery, and had caught him having an affair with her friend. She was furious and said she wouldn’t marry him, she recalled; the begging and pleading began, then the “tussle.”
“I did push him and his head went into the door,” she said. “So then he’s grabbing me and slamming me down on the bed and stuff.”
She knew then she shouldn’t marry him. “This is just a storm waiting to happen,” she recalled. But she did.
What followed were years of mental abuse, she said. She described incidents in which he discouraged her from going out, was unfaithful, and once, before she was a police officer herself, ripped wires out of the car to keep her from leaving him. She called the police, who schooled her on her rights to their car, she recalled: “His name is on the registration so it’s his.”
“I was a prisoner in my own house,” she said.
The physical violence was sporadic, she said, triggered by her anger when she suspected he was not being faithful.
“Was it an every day beatdown?” she said. “No, it wasn’t every day. It was only the times that I caught him.”
Mason acknowledges her own involvement in physical altercations but says that doesn’t negate what happened to her.
“It’s frustrating to talk about something you went through when people say you didn’t. It hurts,” she said. “Especially when they try to say, ‘Oh no, it wasn’t them, it was me.’ No, it was both of us. It was both of us. Did I defend myself? Yes. Did I win? No.”
Sometimes she called the police, who would ask him to leave the house temporarily, but she didn’t report the worst fights, she said. She didn’t want him in jail — she had two children with him — and she would always let him return.
“I was in love with the man,” she said. “I loved the man from the way he walked, the way he just looked. Everything about him, I loved — except the abuse part,” she said. “My heart was in it. How do you pull your heart out of something?”
The turning point, she said, came after he told a mutual acquaintance that he was so upset she might be having an affair with another police officer that he felt he could shoot both of them.
“When I was told that, I said, ‘This man’s crazy, he’s really going to kill me,’ " she said.
That was the threat that spurred her in 1999 to seek the restraining order, which years later would resurface and ultimately lead to White’s suspension two days after being sworn in as commissioner and then-Mayor Walsh hiring an outside lawyer to investigate.
That independent investigation produced a scathing report that detailed other allegations of domestic violence by White, including another restraining order in against him in 1993, granted to a teenage woman who was then living with their family.
Now, White’s lawyer is seeking to discredit Mason’s claims of abuse by highlighting that, when she sought a protection from abuse order against him based on the alleged shooting threat, she said there was no physical abuse in the relationship. “As a police officer, she was duty bound to tell the truth,” Carter wrote in a June 3 letter to Janey.
Mason told the Globe that what she meant when she answered that question from an investigating officer back in 1999 was that there was no violence at the moment in which White made the alleged shooting threat.
“I did tell her there has been [physical violence] in the past,” she said. “But at that point when we were talking about the shooting, she asked, ‘Was there domestic violence then,’ and I said ‘no.’ Was there ever domestic violence in our life at all? Yes.”
There was the time White pulled her by the hair toward the stove. “He’s trying to burn my face,” she recounted in her interview with the Globe, incidents that also came up in the independent investigation into the allegations against White. “Thank God the thing didn’t light.” There was the time she said he threw a small TV at her. There was the time she taunted him with the idea that she might be having an affair — to let him know what it felt like, she said — and he wrapped his hands around her neck and began choking her, she said. “The man was trying to kill me,” she said.
And there was the time he dragged her all the way from the bedroom to the front of the house trying to throw her out. “As he’s pulling me, my hand caught a nail on a door and I have a scar from that,” she said, referencing the wrist she showed a TV reporter last week. (White’s lawyer released her daughter’s old family photos that she asserted showed Mason’s arms unscathed in years after the couple divorced, to dispute White’s involvement in the injury.)
What hurts most, Mason said, is the effort to zero out her experiences.
“Don’t call me a liar cause I know what I went through,” she said. “They’re trying to say it didn’t happen.”