A Boston police sergeant who was investigated after body camera footage showed him bragging about intentionally striking protesters with his vehicle must serve an unpaid suspension of at least eight days, the department said Friday.
Officials announced the punishment for Clifton McHale a few hours after Acting Mayor Kim Janey called on police to “move quickly to issue discipline and hold this sergeant accountable for conduct unbecoming an officer.”
Earlier Friday, the Globe reported that McHale had returned to active duty pending a disciplinary decision after the conclusion of an internal investigation, which was launched when the video was released in December. McHale is a supervisor in the department’s court unit.
“The facts of this case are indefensible,” Janey said in a statement seeking a quick decision about McHale’s punishment. Before McHale’s suspension was announced, City Councilor Michelle Wu, a mayoral candidate, also criticized how the police department handled the case.
The internal investigation, which relied on video evidence and witness interviews, found McHale’s statements recorded by a body-worn camera were “unbecoming of a police officer,” said Sergeant Detective John Boyle, a police department spokesman. But investigators concluded that McHale did not strike anyone with his vehicle as he had told other officers, Boyle said.
He must serve eight days of the 10-day suspension, with the remaining two days set aside for six months, Boyle said.
In May, police officials confirmed the investigation into McHale during a City Council budget hearing. At the time, McHale was performing a desk job and wasn’t out on patrol, officials told councilors.
On Friday night, police released a 26-page internal affairs file that said investigators collected videos from the area where McHale was driving, including footage from social media, traffic cameras, and body-worn cameras from officers stationed nearby. Video evidence and witness interviews showed demonstrators threw projectiles at McHale’s unmarked cruiser, but he did not strike them and eventually abandoned the vehicle on Winter Street.
McHale, who joined the department in 1997, didn’t respond to e-mails and the Globe couldn’t locate a working telephone number for him. His union, the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The video footage, published by online news outlet The Appeal, came from an officer-worn body camera and was part of a trove of footage obtained by attorney Carlton Williams, who received it in the course of defending protesters who were arrested during the demonstrations on May 31, 2020..
“I got to [expletive] Tremont and Park,” he says in the video. “And I was in the middle of the [expletive] street. So then I had to keep coming. I was [expletive] hitting people with the car.”
Protesters “were all [expletive] around,” he says.
On Friday, Williams said prosecutors can still bring charges against defendants who attempt to commit violence, but don’t succeed.
“It’s still a felony to try to hit people with your car whether you do it or not,” he said.
Williams said he is concerned that McHale’s case normalizes the misconduct caught on camera.
“It’s distinctly the opposite of what he’s supposed to be doing. That doesn’t seem OK. It doesn’t seem like good management,” he said.
Wu and her mayoral opponent, City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, weighed in on the case before McHale’s punishment was announced.
“This lack of respect for Bostonians and their safety does not belong in our police force,” Wu said. “When an officer violates the public trust by speaking about intentionally striking protestors, quiet reinstatement with no explanation given should not be an option.”
Essaibi George, said that while she doesn’t know all the details of McHale’s case, “I firmly believe that those who serve this city must be held to the highest possible standard.”
“In order to make any progress towards building more trust between our residents and our police, it is critical that every officer be held accountable for his or her actions, and any investigation is conducted with the utmost transparency,” she said.
In December, the Globe reported that McHale had been investigated in 2005 for allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman he encountered while doing a paid detail in uniform at a bar near Faneuil Hall. The Suffolk district attorney at the time, Daniel F. Conley, considered the case for criminal prosecution, but did not charge McHale, citing insufficient evidence.
A year later, McHale, who had maintained that any contact between himself and the woman was consensual, agreed to accept a one-year, unpaid suspension after an internal investigation concluded he had engaged in “inappropriate sexual relations with the highly intoxicated woman.” McHale also acknowledged violating rules on take-home police vehicles and failing to properly secure his weapon.
Following the suspension, McHale, a former Boston College hockey player whose father is a former Boston police deputy superintendent, returned to the department and was later promoted to sergeant.
The police department has denied the Globe’s request for records from the 2005 internal affairs case.
McHale’s reinstatement was first reported Thursday on a Substack newsletter, The Flashpoint, written by Eoin Higgins, who wrote about the video footage for The Appeal.
City Councilor Andrea Campbell, a former mayoral candidate who leads the council’s Committee on Public Safety and Criminal Justice, said the city has failed to comply with a subpoena seeking records about the latest investigation into McHale, saying the probe was ongoing.
Campbell said she encountered the same roadblock when she subpoenaed records about former patrolman and union president Patrick M. Rose Sr., who is being prosecuted for child rape, and about reports that a Boston police officer may have participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C.
“I think this continues to speak to the lack of transparency and accountability that exists in the department,” she said Thursday.
McHale’s case could be handled by the new Office of Police Accountability and Transparency once it’s fully operational, she said. In the meantime, Campbell said the office could ask outside investigators to review high-profile cases like this one.
“In my last few months on the council, I want make sure that office is staffed and equipped and that the public is consistently made aware of the status of these investigations,” she said.
Laura Crimaldi can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.