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Woburn cop placed on leave while police probe allegations he attended, helped plan deadly 2017 Charlottesville rally

Woburn police have placed an officer on paid leave while they investigate allegations that he allegedly attended and helped plan the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. that turned violent and claimed the life of a counter-demonstrator, officials said.

In a statement Thursday, Woburn Mayor Scott Galvin and police Chief Robert F. Rufo Jr. identified the officer placed on leave as John Donnelly. He couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

The statement said Donnelly allegedly “participated in and was active in the planning” of the rally which included members of white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups as well as the Ku Klux Klan. Some rally participants carried weapons and chanted racist and antisemitic slogans, the statement said.


Donnelly was a reserve officer at the time of the rally, officials said. He’ll remain on leave pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation into allegations of inappropriate conduct, the statement said. Rufo recently learned of Donnelly’s alleged involvement, the release said.

“The Charlottesville rally is a dark moment in our history, and deeply disturbing,” Galvin said in the release. “The City of Woburn is taking these allegations seriously by investigating the incident thoroughly and I will move to terminate Officer Donnelly if the investigation concludes that the allegations are accurate.”

Rufo said Donnelly could lose his job.

“What was said and done in Charlottesville is in direct opposition to the core values of the Woburn Police Department, to serve all members of our community equally and treat them with dignity and respect,” Rufo said. “Should this allegation be sustained, the Woburn Police Department will ask Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission to decertify Officer Donnelly, ensuring he may no longer serve in law enforcement in Massachusetts.”

Heather Heyer, an anti-racism activist, was killed during the Aug. 12, 2017, rally when a car driven by avowed white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr. plowed into a group of counter-demonstrators including Heyer. Fields was sentenced to life plus 419 years for fatally striking her.


Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Travis Andersen can be reached at