Prosecutors review cases involving Woburn police officer linked to white supremacist rally
Middlesex County prosecutors say they're reviewing every criminal case involving a Woburn police officer who allegedly helped plan a deadly white supremacist rally in Virginia five years ago.
Woburn officials placed officer John Donnelly on leave Thursday when they announced an internal investigation. They said Donnelly could lose his job if the allegations are substantiated.
But the accusations also raise questions about potential bias in criminal cases in which Donnelly testified or play another role. Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan said her office is reviewing all those cases and plans to notify the attorneys who represented the defendants.
"We are acutely aware of the way in which these allegations tear at the fabric of trust which exists between communities and the police departments which serve them," Ryan said. "I can't tell you how profoundly and professionally disturbing these allegations are."
Ryan said she only became aware of the allegations on Thursday, the same day Woburn officials said they're investigating whether Donnelly attended or helped plan the so-called "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. Anti-racism activist Heather Heyer was killed when an avowed white supremacist drove into counter-protestors during the rally.
A HuffPost report said Donnelly was a key figure in organizing and participating in the Charlottesville rally. The report said that Donnelly used a fake name to post racist and anti-Semitic comments on Discord, a social networking site.
Donnelly is also a real estate agent with The Donnelly Group of Century 21 North East. The Huffington Post said confirmation of his identity was made by comparing videos from the rally with some of Donnelly's real estate business photos.
An internet group called "Ignite the Right" also connected Donnelly to Charlottesville. The group is compiling a database of people who attended the rally. Its website says it is continuing to identify those who were in Charlottesville five years ago.
"Antifascists are continuing to work towards exposing every single person who participated. We do not forgive. We do not forget," the site says.
Donnelly has not responded to requests for comment.
Ryan, the Middlesex district attorney, says she plans to convene an emergency meeting of her office's anti-hate task force next week to discuss the situation.
"If a community is experiencing something like like this then we want to part of the repair process," Ryan said.