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Woburn officer resigns amid investigation into alleged role in deadly 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ rally

A Woburn police officer resigned Monday amid allegations he participated in and helped plan the violent 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., an event that included neo-Nazi groups and claimed the life of a counterprotester.

Officer John Donnelly, who was placed on paid leave last week after the allegations surfaced, submitted a letter of resignation to Woburn police Chief Robert Rufo Jr. and Mayor Scott Galvin on Monday, and it was “promptly accepted,” Rufo and Galvin said in a statement.

Donnelly could not be immediately reached for comment on Monday.

Despite his resignation, Donnelly remains the focus of an internal affairs investigation by the Police Department, the statement said.


“A thorough finding of fact is necessary in this situation, and our investigation shall continue,” Rufo said in the statement. “For decades, police chiefs across the commonwealth have called for a statewide certification process to ensure that allegations of misconduct are thoroughly investigated, and bad actors are held accountable. That will be our focus moving forward. The men and women of the Woburn Police Department are united in disavowing hate in all its forms.”

Galvin said hate has no place in Woburn or its Police Department.

“The City of Woburn stands together in its opposition to hate and violence, and we will emerge stronger as a community,” he said in the statement.

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

Rufo will report the findings of the department’s investigation to Galvin and the Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, the statement said. The department opened the investigation and placed Donnelly on leave after “serious allegations were brought” to the department indicating Donnelly was involved in the rally, the statement said.


On Friday, a day after the Police Department announced the allegations against Donnelly, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan’s office said it was reviewing all cases that he was involved in.

The Aug. 12, 2017, rally in Charlottesville, which involved members of neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, turned violent and led to the death of antiracism activist Heather Heyer, one of several counterdemonstrators who were struck by a car driven by avowed white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr.

Fields was sentenced to life plus 419 years for fatally striking Heyer.

Donnelly was a reserve officer at the time of the rally, officials said last week.

Material from previous Globe stories was used in this report.

Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com.