Janey says White must go, decries ‘blue wall of silence’
Investigation of Boston police commissioner describes abuse allegations, culture of secrecy
ACTING MAYOR KIM JANEY released a devastating report Friday on Police Commissioner Dennis White, who was put on leave just two days after his appointment in early February amid reports of an earlier domestic violence allegation.
The investigation not only reveals serious allegations of physical and mental abuse against White but also paints a picture of a deeply troubled department, one that did not take seriously the charges against him more than two decades ago and where the present-day culture resisted cooperation with an investigator’s effort now to get at the truth of what took place.
Janey said that White, who has been on administrative leave since early February, should not lead the department, but a legal challenge from him has thrown a wrench into her plans to move the department on from under the “cloud” she says it’s been under.
“Dennis White’s own admitted behavior does not reflect our values. It is clear from the report that we have to move in a different direction,” Janey said in a late afternoon briefing at City Hall. “In addition to the facts of this case, the investigation revealed a culture of fear and silence within the Boston Police Department. Sworn officers refused to speak to investigators, frustrating efforts to uncover the truth.”
On Friday afternoon, White filed a complaint in Suffolk Superior Court charging that Janey is attempting to “unlawfully” remove him from the commissioner’s position. His attorney, Nicholas Carter maintains there is no cause for White’s termination and he is seeking a court injunction to stop the move. A hearing on his motion is expected to be heard in Suffolk Superior Court next week.
The release of the report marks the latest chapter in the troubled appointment of White, the last high-profile decision by former mayor Marty Walsh before his departure in March to become US labor secretary. The report raises new questions about Walsh’s role in the matter, saying his administration initially sought to shut down the probe only 10 days after it began.
But it also suggests Janey’s administration was less than fully cooperative in aiding the investigation.
White was named police commissioner in late January by Walsh following the abrupt retirement of William Gross. But two days after he was sworn in, the 32-year veteran of the department was placed on administrative leave after reports that he was accused of domestic violence in 1999 by his then-wife.
Walsh ordered an outside investigation of the allegations, which was carried out by Tamsin Kaplan, an attorney with the Boston firm Davis Malm.
In her 19-page report, Kaplan says she spoke to four witnesses who told her White subjected his wife to mental and physical abuse. The allegations of abuse ranged from charges that White had pushed his wife’s face to the stove, stepped on her face, kicked her, threw a television at her, and choked her.
White was placed on leave after the Boston Globe reported that his then-wife obtained a restraining order against him in 1999. Kaplan’s report reveals a second allegation of domestic violence, in 1993, involving a 19-year-old woman who was apparently living in the two-family house White owned with his wife.
The allegations Kaplan investigated involving White and his wife, who was also a police officer, from 1998 and 1999 also include a claim that White said he was so angry he wanted to shoot his wife and an acquaintance of hers. It also reported that he slept for about six months with a gun under his pillow.
White’s wife obtained a restraining order against him in May 1999, but Kaplan said she confirmed that his wife had “repeatedly reported both physical and mental abuse to the DVU [domestic violence unit] during that time period, but that no IAD [Internal Affairs Division] investigations results until she obtained a restraining order in May 1999.” The restraining order was initially imposed for one year, but was vacated after a month as part of the couple’s divorce proceedings.
White ended up facing two charges investigated by the department’s internal affairs division.
In October 1999, the charge of “nonconformance with the law” was “not sustained,” but the investigation sustained a charge of “neglect of duty and unreasonable judgment.” White told internal affairs investigators he was “joking around” when he made the comment about shooting his wife and the second person.
Kaplan’s report says that in April 2001, the internal affairs recommendation on neglect of duty and unreasonable judgment was changed from sustained to “filed,” at the recommendation of a Superintendent Thomas Dowd, with the approval of then-Commissioner Paul Evans. Kaplan’s report says Dowd said “the subjective interpretation of the statements” made by White “were not conclusive enough to sustain a rules violation,” but were serious enough to so that the matter should remain on file.
In the 1993 episode, the unnamed 19-year-old woman charged that White hit her with his fist, threw her down stairs, and called her a “whore.”
That incident also resulted in an internal affairs probe, with the allegation of “physical abuse” not sustained. Kaplan said that according to the internal affairs investigation, White admitted pushing the woman and striking her with “a full swing of his arm and an open hand,” but he maintained it was in self-defense after she had kicked him.
White and the woman sought criminal complaints against each other, but both of them were dismissed.
Kaplan said during her investigation that it was also alleged that White, who was married and in his early 30s at the time, had previously made sexual advances toward the 19-year-old woman, “including sexually hugging and rubbing her,” and that he became angry at her when she “rejected White’s advance.” In his interview with Kaplan, White denied touching her or making sexual comments to her.
Kaplan noted that she tried to reach 21 witnesses, including 12 current and retired Boston Police Department officers and nine civilians, as part of her investigation. She was only able to speak with seven of them. She said one retired Boston police officer told her they received “at least five calls directing them not to talk with me.” She said the former officer told her, “Many people say don’t do anything against a police officer.”
It wasn’t just potential witnesses who threw barriers in Kaplan’s way.
Kaplan was hired by the city’s then-corporation counsel, Eugene O’Flaherty, on February 12 to carry out a thorough investigation of the allegations against White and any other internal affairs issues in his record. She told a city law department official she expected to be able to complete the probe by the end of March.
Ten days after she was hired, however, Kaplan writes that she was told on February 22 “this independent investigation was to be terminated as of 5:00 p.m. on February 24, 2021, at the direction of Attorney O’Flaherty.” Kaplan writes that she was “asked to provide a final report of the investigation to the extent possible.” She said she was unable to make any findings at that point but submitted a brief memo summarizing the status of the investigation.
Kaplan says she was contacted again by the city’s assistant corporation counsel, Susan Weise, on March 1 to say the termination was being reversed and that the investigation should resume.
O’Flaherty, who left City Hall soon after that, in early March, to work for a Washington, DC-based lobbying firm, did not return an email message on Friday asking about the turn of events. Walsh’s Labor Department spokeswoman also did not answer an email.
The day after the city’s reversal, Kaplan says, White’s attorney, Nicholas Carter, sent a letter to O’Flaherty saying his client would not cooperate with the probe because it was not being conducted by the city in good faith.
White ultimately did cooperate to a degree, including submitting to an interview with Kaplan on April 15, but she portrays him as a reluctant participant from the start.
“Commissioner White stated at the outset of the interview that he objected to the investigation,” Kaplan wrote. She had outlined ahead of time that she would like to interview him and then possibly have a shorter follow-up conversation at some point. She said White refused a second interview, saying he would only answer questions in writing.
On April 19, Carter wrote to the city, and sent a copy to Kaplan, warning of legal action if what Carter termed as “false allegations” being made against White are included in her report. Carter also told Kaplan he wanted to review a draft of the report before it was issued to, in Kaplan’s words, “ensure that it does not contain inappropriate content.”
Kaplan said she told Carter she would “not permit him or anyone else to preview or suggest revisions to this final investigation report.”
White, who became the city’s second black police commissioner on the heels of Gross’s barrier-breaking tenure, was named commissioner without any vetting by Walsh or even an interview. The mess created by his appointment, however, now stands as a major test for Janey, who as City Council president became acting mayor when Walsh resigned on March 22.
In a radio interview last month, Janey sounded conflicted over the case. “They are very serious allegations,” she told GBH’s Jim Braude and Margery Eagan. But she went on to say, “I do believe people should have the opportunity to move on from things when they happen like this. When you take responsibility, you can move on.”
Today, however, with Kaplan’s report in hand, she made clear her belief that White should not lead the department.
Although Janey said in her remarks that she vowed to bring “transparency and accountability” to City Hall, and she decried the lack of cooperation with Kaplan from police officers, the report raises questions about her administration’s cooperation with the investigation.
Kaplan said when she sought help getting interviews with current and former Boston police officers, the new city corporation counsel, Henry Luthin, introduced her to Gregory Long, the acting police commissioner, and asked Long to “facilitate my interviews of current and retired member of the BPD.” But Kaplan writes that “after conferring with the Acting Mayor’s Chief of Staff, Superintendent Long declined to provide assistance.”Janey said the episode has revealed much broader problems in the department, and she announced formation of a committee to recommend systemic changes. Janey said Shumeane Benford, the city’s chief of emergency management, and Rahsaan Hall, director of the racial justice program at the ACLU of Massachusetts, will lead the effort.
“Officers were intimidated into silence for fear of retaliation. This investigation of Dennis White reveals a flawed process and a misguided department culture,” Janey said. “The time has come for us to turn away from the mistakes of the past and turn toward a more just and equitable Boston.”