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Janey fires Dennis White as Boston police commissioner

Acting Mayor Kim Janey said all candidates for leadership positions in the Police Department will undergo vetting and background checks.
Acting Mayor Kim Janey said all candidates for leadership positions in the Police Department will undergo vetting and background checks.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Acting Mayor Kim Janey fired Boston Police Commissioner Dennis White on Monday, ending months of chaos atop the department sparked by the reemergence of decades-old domestic abuse allegations against him shortly after he took the job in February.

“I will not turn a blind eye to domestic violence against Black women, or any woman, for that matter,” Janey said during a City Hall news conference.

In announcing White’s full removal from the nation’s oldest police force, Janey cited White’s own statements where he admitted to pushing and hitting members of his household. She said the allegations and evidence raised serious questions about his fitness to lead Boston police. Janey said that she had removed White from the force altogether after 32 years, since White had given up his civil service rank when he took the commissioner’s job. Sworn in in February, White served in the role for only two days before he was placed on leave following a Globe inquiry into past domestic violence allegations.

Janey did not name an immediate replacement for White but did indicate she planned to launch a “national search” for a permanent commissioner “to be named toward the end of the year.” She offered few other details about that plan, saying she would have more to share in coming weeks. A spokeswoman for Janey’s office declined to give any further clarity regarding a timeline in response to follow-up questions. The timing is of particular interest as six major candidates, including Janey, are currently competing to be Boston’s next full-term mayor, a race that will not conclude until Nov. 2.

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Janey also said that from now on she will require that all external and internal candidates for leadership positions in the police department undergo vetting and background checks. “The residents of Boston must have confidence that the officers charged with enforcing laws are themselves people of integrity,” Janey said.

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White has denied any wrongdoing. On Monday his attorney said Janey “got this one wrong” and vowed to continue his legal battle against Janey and the city.

Dennis White.
Dennis White.City of Boston via Associated Press

During the news conference, Boston’s acting mayor said that instead of expressing regret, growth, or contrition, White continued to vilify his former wife, eroding the public’s trust in him. His return to the commissioner post would send a chilling message to domestic violence victims and reinforce a “blue wall of silence” within the department, said Janey.

“As commissioner, he failed to lead by example,” she said, noting he had also failed to fully cooperate with the investigation into his past.

In addition to saying she will require background checks for all BPD leadership positions, Janey outlined other policy measures she will pursue, at least some of which she had raised several weeks ago. Janey said she will announce in a few weeks a committee of community residents, public safety advocates, and law enforcement officials to help define what the city wants from its police leadership.

She also spoke of updating and bolstering the department’s domestic violence policy, which she said was 15 years old.

For now, Gregory Long will continue to serve as the department’s interim commissioner, which he has done since White was placed on leave in February, following questions about the allegations.

White’s lawyer, Nicholas B. Carter, released a statement Monday on behalf of White that said he was “deeply disappointed” by Janey’s decision.

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“He is a Black man, falsely accused of crimes, not given a fair trial or hearing, and then convicted, or terminated which is the equivalent here. This reflects an ugly pattern in our country,” Carter wrote. “In a rush to judgment, the Acting Mayor got this one wrong and destroyed Dennis White in the process.”

Carter said White intends to file a civil rights claim to recover his own losses and “to send a message that this kind of unlawful and harmful treatment must not be allowed to happen again to anyone.”

Janey has been trying to remove the embattled White from the top job on the force for weeks, but White delayed his ouster via legal challenges. Janey initially moved to terminate White as commissioner following the results of an independent investigation, released in May, that detailed an alleged pattern of 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 of hitting a 19-year-old woman in a separate incident in 1993.

White has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and was never charged with a crime. His Monday termination came less than a week after Janey held a hearing to determine whether she should fire him.

White’s efforts to defend himself against the domestic violence allegations have pushed his family discord into public view.

Last week, White asserted under oath that it was his former wife, Sybil Mason, who was the aggressor, and he enlisted one of their two adult daughters and Mason’s sister to provide sworn testimony depicting his former wife as violent.

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Their other daughter has said her mother was abused “emotionally, mentally, and physically” and that her parents had a dysfunctional relationship.

Mason, in a recent interview with the Globe, described suffering physical violence at the hands of White. (The Globe generally does not identify victims of domestic violence unless they agree to be named.)

Reached Monday, Mason said, “He’s going to try to blame me. But it’s not my fault.”

“Cause if things happened, they happened. If I can admit they happened and I got to keep living through this stuff — just admit the truth and get over it. Stop putting me through torture. I wasn’t the one on trial. Why is he messing with me?”

She added, “I’ve still got to deal with this. It’s not going to go away just cause he’s fired.”

The White case has become a significant political issue in Boston, with all six major mayoral candidates saying that White could not continue as 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 recently that former mayor Martin J. Walsh knew about White’s internal affairs history before he appointed him to lead the force. White also released a sworn statement in which he recounted telling Walsh that he had been the subject of a restraining order when he was accused in the late 1990s of threatening to shoot his former wife.

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Such statements 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, who is now the nation’s labor secretary, has since repeated that he did not know of the accusations, and his account was backed up by another former police commissioner, William Evans.

White has argued that Janey has no grounds to fire him, since his past had already been disclosed and considered before his appointment. If White continues his legal challenge, Walsh could be forced to testify under oath about what he knew about White’s past, a possibility that could stalk the former mayor in his new post in Washington, D.C., legal analysts have said.

Stephanie Ebbert of Globe staff contributed to this report.

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Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald. Sahar Fatima can be reached at sahar.fatima@globe.com Follow her on Twitter @sahar_fatima.