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Adrian Walker

Why does Clifton McHale still have a badge?

Sergeant Clifton McHale bragged on video about hitting protesters with his car in downtown Boston last year.

Clifton McHale still carries a badge, and that fact shouldn’t sit well with anyone in Boston.

McHale is a Boston Police officer who bragged that he intentionally hit citizens with his cruiser during a massive protest in 2020 following the killing of George Floyd.

Yes, I said intentionally.

There’s body-camera footage — obtained by attorney Carlton Williams and posted by The Appeal, an online news outlet. This is what it captures McHale saying, laughing as he did so, until he realized a body camera was recording him.

“I got to [expletive] Tremont and Park,” he says. “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.”


McHale was placed on desk duty after the video surfaced in December. But now he has been returned to active duty — a decision executed with the complete lack of transparency we’ve all come to expect from the Boston Police Department.

Sergeant Detective John Boyle, a police department spokesman, told the Globe’s Laura Crimaldi that McHale has been reinstated by Acting Commissioner Gregory Long, following an Internal Affairs investigation. He said McHale faces some unspecified form of discipline, but will not be dismissed.

But after fierce blowback on Friday from many corners — including from the acting mayor and both mayoral finalists — the department backtracked. A statement from Boyle clarified that McHale received a 10-day suspension for his comments — and said investigators had concluded upon reviewing video evidence that McHale never actually struck anyone with his cruiser.

So his defense is that . . . he was lying about hitting protesters? Just kidding?

It isn’t as though we’re talking about one error in an otherwise stellar career.

McHale was previously suspended for a year in 2005 after being investigated for allegations he sexually assaulted a woman he encountered while working a paid detail at Faneuil Hall. He narrowly escaped indictment after then-Suffolk district attorney Dan Conley concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him.


Though McHale claimed that whatever had transpired was “consensual,” an Internal Affairs investigation concluded that he had engaged in “inappropriate sexual relations with the highly intoxicated woman.”

Not only did McHale remain on the force, he eventually got promoted to sergeant.

Maybe this is a coincidence or maybe it isn’t, but McHale is the son of a well-liked former deputy superintendent. Could that help explain why his misconduct never seems to cost him?

McHale’s latest slap on the wrist is just another example of why police reform should be high on the agenda of Boston’s next mayor. At this point, accountability is nothing more than an empty buzz word.

To her credit, Acting Mayor Kim Janey denounced the decision Friday, calling the facts of the case “indefensible.” Both mayoral finalists, Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George, issued statements calling for greater transparency.

“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.”

To be clear, McHale’s reinstatement isn’t all that’s disturbing here. Nearly as bad is the fact that decisions within the BPD are made with no explanation and no transparency.


But this is how they roll in the Boston Police Department. We still don’t know why Patrick Rose Sr. — the onetime head of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association — kept his job after horrifying allegations of sexual assault.

For that matter, Long is acting commissioner only because Dennis White’s long-buried history of allegations of domestic violence came out after he was promoted to the top job.

And McHale’s misdeeds could have gone without scrutiny as well.

But McHale is from a police family. And nearly all internal investigations are shielded from view. So we’re left to guess why he still has a badge.

And we’re left to take on faith — wholly unsupported faith — that McHale can be trusted to police our streets.

Why should anyone believe that?

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at adrian.walker@globe.com. Follow him @Adrian_Walker.