A STATE APPEALS COURT judge on Thursday afternoon turned down Boston Police Commissioner Dennis White’s effort to block the city from proceeding with efforts to fire him because of allegations of domestic violence dating to the 1990s, the latest chapter in a seesawing tale of legal maneuvers that have cast uncertainty over leadership of nation’s oldest police force.
The ruling by Appeals Court Associate Justice Vickie Henry appears to clear the way for Acting Mayor Kim Janey to fire White after holding a hearing where he can make his case to remain in office.
“I applaud the decision of Appeals Court Single Justice Vickie L. Henry,” Janey said in a statement. “I will immediately move forward to schedule a hearing with Dennis White. It is time to move the Boston Police Department in a new direction toward our vision of safety, healing, and justice.”
On May 14, Janey released the findings from an outside investigator tasked with looking into the domestic violence allegations, and made clear her intention to remove him as the city’s top police official. “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,” she said in releasing the report, which detailed allegations that he had hit and threatened his then-wife and also assaulted a 19-year-old niece.
Nicholas Carter, White’s attorney, said in a statement after the Appeals Court decision that “Commissioner White respects the ruling.” But he repeated a call made yesterday in a letter to city officials for Janey to hold a public hearing where White can present evidence and witnesses. Carter also said White wants to be provided with “a copy of the investigator’s file, including at minimum the identity of who is making these false allegations against him and what their source of information is.” He also asked to be provided the complete internal affairs files of White and his former wife, who is also a Boston police officer.
On Tuesday, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Heidi Brieger rejected White’s argument that he was entitled to a full judicial hearing in court, with the right to call witnesses and cross-examine them, before he can be terminated. On Wednesday, Brieger put her ruling on hold to allow White to challenge it with the Appeals Court, but Henry upheld Brieger’s ruling.
“After review of the petition and supporting documents, including the Superior Court judge’s thoughtful and detailed memorandum of decision and order, I discern no error of law or abuse of discretion in the denial of the preliminary injunction,” Henry wrote.
After the release of the investigator’s report on the allegations of domestic abuse against White, prepared by attorney Tamsin Kaplan, Janey informed White she was prepared to dismiss him, and she scheduled a hearing with him for later that day.
White, who has denied any wrongdoing in the 1999 allegation involving his then-wife and the 1993 incident involving his niece, went to court seeking an injunction to block the city from proceeding with the dismissal.
State law governing the Boston police commissioner’s post says a commissioner “may, after notice and hearing, be removed by the mayor for cause.”
The legal dispute has largely revolved around what type of hearing is required.
The city argued White is entitled only to a meeting with Janey, where he can offer his arguments against being terminated. Carter argued that the 19-page report prepared by Kaplan makes defamatory allegations against White, based on unnamed witnesses who often provided only hearsay evidence, and that he is entitled to a “name-clearing” hearing where witnesses cited in the report must appear.
Brieger, in her decision on Tuesday, rejected that argument. She said the state statute is clear that the “cause-finder” who is empowered to remove a commissioner “is the Acting Mayor, not this Court.”
Henry agreed with that.
“Although he argues that the Superior Court must hold an evidentiary hearing prior to his removal, the Commissioner has not cited to any authority for that proposition. I agree with the motion judge’s determination that the hearing required before a removal decision is properly held before the appointing authority, not the Superior Court,” Henry wrote in her ruling.
White, who was appointed by then-Mayor Marty Walsh with no vetting or an interview, was put on administrative leave two days after his February 1 swearing-in when the domestic violence allegations from the 1990s surfaced.
The city had indicated it will move quickly to end the controversy once any legal barriers were removed.
Kay Hodge, a lawyer for the city, wrote in an earlier filing in the case that “within 48 hours” of a court ruling clearing the way for a termination hearing, “the City intends to renew its offer to Commissioner White (and his attorney) to meet with the Acting Mayor to provide any information he wishes her to consider before making her final decision.”