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Janey moves to dismiss police commissioner

City releases report detailing domestic violence allegations

Saraya Wintersmith, GBH News

Acting Mayor Kim Janey Friday moved to dismiss Dennis White as Boston’s police commissioner following a review of domestic violence allegations against him and to name Superintendent Nora Baston as his interim successor.

Janey also has plans to launch a national search to screen applicants for the city’s permanent top cop position as a way to avoid finalists emerging with questionable records.

The acting mayor’s decision came after a 3-month, independent probe led by Tamsin R. Kaplan, an attorney with the Davis Malm law firm.

White was not immediately available for comment Friday afternoon. Earlier in the day, he filed an injunction to stop the dismissal. White remains on administrative leave.

Janey described the situation as a “cloud” obstructing Boston Police from moving forward at a late Friday news conference.

Baston will not be able to become the interim commissioner until the injunction is sorted out. If a judge does not grant the injunction, she would become the first Black woman to serve as the city’s commissioner and would lead the force during a mayoral campaign season that has made police funding and policy reform central issues.

The investigation found that four unnamed witnesses supported the allegation that White subjected his ex-wife to “physical and mental abuse.” At least one witness “confirmed” the ex-wife contacted the Boston Police Department’s domestic violence unit “on multiple occasions to complain about Dennis, including complaints of physical abuse, and that ‘reports were made,’” according to Kaplan’s report.

One Boston Police Department domestic violence investigator believed the restraining order White’s ex-wife filed against him was motivated out of spite, the report also stated.

Kaplan’s investigation also revealed a separate internal affairs investigation of White in 1993 stemming from a confrontation with a 19-year-old family member who White was attempting to evict from his home.

In that instance, White and the unnamed 19-year-old woman both sought restraining orders after they were involved in a physical altercation. White, the report said, acknowledged slapping the young woman as an act of self-defense after she charged at him and kicked him in the knee.

The Boston Police Department’s internal affairs division investigated and concluded with a finding of “Not Sustained,” meaning investigators were not able to prove or disprove the allegations.

Kaplan’s report said that nearly two dozen sources were contacted for the investigation, but only seven responded. One person claiming to be a retired officer shared that they had received several phone calls urging against cooperating with the probe.

Pointing to those findings, Janey slammed the force, saying the report revealed “a culture of fear and silence” within the Boston Police Department.

“This investigation reveals a flawed process and a misguided department culture,” she said. “The future leadership of the Boston Police Department is an urgent matter as we move our city forward, but I ask for our city’s patience as we await the court ruling.”

Even though Janey inherited the scandal as part of assuming the acting mayoralty, political opponents criticized her handling of the situation after news of White’s legal maneuver were reported.

“It’s disappointing that Boston residents continue to have no clarity about who will steer the Police Department over the next six months as Interim Commissioner until the next administration,” said Councilor Michelle Wu in a statement.

“Instead of moving forward to tackle the systemic reforms the people of Boston want, Acting Mayor Janey is in a standoff with Dennis White — and it’s not even clear who’s currently leading our police department,” said Councilor Andrea Campbell in a written statement Friday. “The city needs leadership that brings clarity and stability to this situation, not chaos and confusion.”

Janey, Wu and Campbell are all running for mayor.

Retired Commissioner William Gross, whose departure prompted White’s promotion, called White’s treatment a “travesty,” the day before Janey announced her decision.

“You’re talking about a man, Dennis White, who’s been promoted over six times by four different commissioners [and had been] working with Mayor Walsh, at the time, for seven years,” Gross said last Thursday in Mattapan.

Attorney Joseph Feaster, one of White’s early defenders, said he disagreed with former Mayor Marty Walsh’s handling of the case, saying that White should not have been placed on leave in the first place.

Feaster was disappointed in Janey’s move to dismiss White.

“I don’t agree with the decision, but the mayor has a right to make it,” Feaster said.

White’s daughter, Tiffany White, who maintains that her mother’s 1999 domestic violence allegation is false, was frustrated with the news of her father’s dismissal.

“This system has taken her side because she’s a woman,” she said of the investigation results. “My mom is an instigator, always.”

Tiffany said she was not contacted as part of Kaplan’s investigation. In an interview with GBH News Friday, she maintained that her mother was violent towards her and was typically the aggressor in scuffles between her parents.

“I feel bad for my father,” Tiffany said. “I really do.”

Saraya Wintersmith covers Boston City Hall for GBH News, 89.7