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All cases involving Woburn officer who allegedly helped plan deadly Charlottesville rally will be reviewed, DA says

Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. RyanCraig F. Walker

Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan’s office is reviewing all cases involving Woburn police Officer John Donnelly, who is on leave while his department investigates allegations he attended and helped plan the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va.

“Yesterday afternoon, this office became aware of the deeply disturbing allegations regarding” Donnelly, Ryan said Friday in a statement. “We are acutely aware of the way in which these allegations tear at the fabric of trust which exists between communities and the police departments which serve them.”

Next week, she said, her office will convene an emergency meeting of its Anti-Hate Anti-Bias Task Force, which will feature both subject matter experts on these types of allegations and allow for community input.


Ryan announced the review one day after Woburn Mayor Scott Galvin and police Chief Robert F. Rufo Jr. confirmed that Donnelly had been placed on paid leave pending a review of the matter.

Donnelly also lost his job as a real estate agent for Century 21 on Friday, according to a statement from the company.

“We were saddened to read the article regarding Mr Donnelly late yesterday,” the statement said. “We immediately ended our affiliation with Mr Donnelly today and he is no longer an agent here at Century 21.”

Attempts to reach Donnelly for comment have been unsuccessful this week.

An earlier statement from the Woburn officials said Thursday that 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, officials 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 Thursday. “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 Thursday that 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.

The Anti-Defamation League said in a statement that Donnelly’s alleged involvement in the rally was deeply concerning.

“The reverberations of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville continue to be felt today, here in Massachusetts,” said the statement from ADL New England. “The revelations that a member of the Woburn Police Department is under investigation for allegedly planning and participating in that heinous and violent assembly should concern us all.”


The words of the ADL were echoed by Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, executive director of the Massachusetts chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy group.

“Anyone who allegedly holds racist and antisemitic views, and acts on those bigoted views, is clearly unfit to protect and serve a diverse community as a member of law enforcement,” Amatul-Wadud said in a statement. “If the allegations brought against this officer prove to be true, the department should take appropriate action, up to and including termination.”

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Travis Andersen can be reached at