Just days after he was appointed, Boston Police Commissioner Dennis White was placed on leave Thursday after domestic violence allegations from more than 20 years ago surfaced.
The city has appointed an outside attorney to review the allegations against White, who'd been sworn in as Boston's top cop on Monday, while the process that led to White's appointment drew scrutiny.
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In 1999, according to court paperwork, White allegedly pushed and threatened to shoot his then wife, who was also a police officer. The wife told police at the time “he may come inside and kill me because he’s angry.”
Divorce paperwork also alleges White told his daughter not to “startle me when you come up, cause I sleep with a gun under my pillow.”
White denied the allegations at the time and a judge issued a restraining order against him, ordering him to stay away from his family and surrender his service weapon.
The Boston Police Department referred questions to the city and it was not immediately clear if White has an attorney to speak on his behalf.
Mayor Marty Walsh said in a statement that White “was asked to quickly step into the role of Police Commissioner” and that neither he nor his staff were aware of these “disturbing issues.”
“Upon learning of these serious allegations, I immediately acted, placing the Commissioner on administrative leave, while corporation counsel engages outside counsel to conduct a full and impartial investigation,” said Walsh, who had a hearing in Washington Thursday for his nomination to be President Joe Biden's labor secretary.
Also Thursday, Walsh's office said that employment lawyer Tamsin Kaplan, of the Boston law firm Davis Malm, was hired to investigate the case.
Given the prominent role a police commissioner holds, the decision of who to install is often the most consequential any mayor will make, said Robert L. Davis, a law enforcement consultant who has been involved with vetting and hiring other police chiefs around the country.
For a police department the size of Boston’s, that hiring process commonly lasts three or four months, and draws 30 or more applicants from other major cities and smaller departments, he said.
Davis, a former San Jose police chief, said it’s common for five or more strong candidates to emerge, and undergo more rigorous vetting.
That process routinely includes a review of internal affairs matters, as well as commendations, performance appraisals and feedback from the community.
“You want to get a good feel for what that person’s background has been, what their history has been, and also how they interact with the community,” he said, “so that’s all part of the larger process of vetting and backgrounding someone.”
Jamarhl Crawford, a community activist who served on the city’s police reform task force, cautioned against a rush to judgment before the city’s independent investigation of the past allegations against White is complete.
“We are talking about allegations from 21 years ago,” he said. “That’s problematic for me.”
Superintendent-in-Chief Gregory Long will serve as acting commissioner, the mayor said.
White replaced William Gross, the city’s first Black police commissioner, who abruptly retired Friday after nearly 40 years on the police force.
Gross’ departure came amid talk that he was considering a bid to run for mayor, but Gross has said since the announcement that he has no plans to run for office.
White, a 32-year veteran of the department, previously served as Gross’ chief of staff. He said at his swearing-in ceremony that his late mother had dreamed of him one day becoming the city’s top cop.
Several top city officials issued statements Thursday in response to the news about White.
"I take any allegation of this nature very seriously," said Boston City Council President Kim Janey, who will become acting mayor when Walsh steps down to join the Biden administration. "I fully support an independent investigation, and I defer to any further comment until it is completed."
City Councilor Andrea Campbell, who is also a candidate for mayor, released a statement saying this latest incident is more than just a failure to properly vet one candidate.
"The systemic lack of accountability for wrongdoing and transparency in BPD is a trend, from serious domestic violence allegations that are swept under the rug to BPD officers' potential participation on the attack on the U.S. Capitol, and complaints about the repeated use of excessive force against Black and brown people and peaceful protesters," Campbell said. "This pattern also includes deep and disturbing racial inequities in how officers are disciplined or held accountable."
She said she will continue to push the city to investigate the White case.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.