Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is suing the Boston Police Department for their failure to provide the internal affairs records of former Commissioner Dennis White.
The rare legal action comes after the NBC10 Investigators submitted a public records request for the files back in March, shortly after White was placed on leave amid previous domestic violence allegations.
White was later fired by Mayor Kim Janey following an investigation by the City of Boston and a protracted legal battle over whether she had the authority to remove him from the position.
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The Massachusetts supervisor of records referred the case to Healey’s office on May 25 after the police department failed to comply with two orders to release the files.
In June, the attorney general's office sent a letter ordering Boston police to either produce all responsive records or provide a sufficient explanation about how any exemptions could apply. The police department responded by withholding most of the records in their entirety.
On Thursday, the attorney general filed the complaint, which is asking a judge to confirm the records should be made public and that the Boston Police Department is obligated to release them.
“Our state’s public records law is in place to ensure an open, accessible, and accountable government,” said Jillian Fennimore, a spokeswoman for Healey. “That’s especially important when it comes to promoting public confidence in law enforcement. Following repeated failures by the Boston Police Department to produce these records, we are seeking an order from the Court that they must be turned over.”
Citing the pending litigation, BPD spokesman Sgt. Detective John Boyle told NBC10 Boston the department is declining comment.
Mayor Kim Janey issued a statement thanking Healey for taking this step.
"I greatly value the public’s right to know the actions of its government, and I recognize the need to protect the right to privacy for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault," she said. "I respect the judgement of the Office of the Attorney General, and I’ve instructed the City’s Law Department and our Director of Public Records to determine what can be released in this circumstance."
"It is also clear that both the Police Department and the City overall need to increase their ability to respond to public records requests in a timely manner," Janey added. "We are actively exploring the best way to do this as an Administration.”
This is the second time an attorney general has filed a lawsuit to enforce the state’s public records laws.
The other instance was in 2016, when Healey sued three district attorneys for refusing to turn over certain information regarding cases prosecuted by their offices. The Boston Globe had requested the records.
In March 2020, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled the district attorneys' offices must produce the records.
Fennimore said court is usually a last resort, as most public records disputes are resolved prior to that legal step.