Major Michelle Wu announced Wednesday that a former Boston police officer who was beaten up more than 25 years ago by colleagues who mistakenly mistook him for a shooting suspect would be the new chief of the city’s police department.
Michael Cox, 57, will return to his hometown of Boston after serving as chief of police in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to lead the same force he once brought a civil rights case against for being beaten by fellow cops. Cox, who is black, will take over as commissioner next month.
Cox described his date as an “emotional moment” for him, and during a call with reporters, he apologized for his trembling voice. He has promised to work on diversifying the police department – which critics have long complained about doesn’t look enough like the city it serves – Ensuring that officers feel supported in their work to protect the community.
“I think this is a very exciting time. I think the officers need someone to support them,” Cox told reporters on Wednesday. “And I’m going to their biggest fan.”
Before becoming a captain in Ann Arbor in 2019, Cox was part of the Boston Police Force for 30 years, rising through the ranks after fighting for years for justice for a beating that left him seriously injured at the age of 29.
Cox was working undercover in civilian clothes as part of the gang unit in January 1995 when officers received a call about a shooting. Cox, who was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, spotted the suspect and began chasing him. Cox said the suspect began climbing the fence and Cox was shot from behind as he was about to grab the man. He was kicked and punched by fellow officers, and sustained head injuries and kidney damage.
“What happened to me was humiliating,” Cox told former Boston Globe reporter Dick Lear. For Lear’s book on beatings: “The Fence: A Police Cover-up of the Racial Divide in Boston.”
“There is no reason to treat anyone like this. And then just let them go. And if they do it to me — another police officer — will they do it to someone else if they get away with it?” Cox said.
Cox described being harassed in an attempt to silence him after the beating became public despite his colleagues’ efforts to cover it up. An injury report at the department said Cox lost his foot on a frozen pond, causing him to fall and break his head.
On Wednesday, he said Cox chose to remain in the police force after what happened to him and try to make things better rather than walk away from a job he loved.
“Since then in 1995, I have devoted my life to making sure that the Boston Police Department and the police in general have grown and learned … to make sure we have structures and mechanisms in place to make sure we never do it again,” Cox told reporters.
The chief attorney for Boston and surrounding communities, who Cox has known for years, described him as “a man of honor and integrity.”
“Michael Cox’s journey from being beaten up by fellow Boston police officers to his appointment as Commissioner of the Boston Police Department is emblematic of criminal legal reform,” Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden said in an emailed statement.
Cox’s tenure in Ann Arbor was marred by allegations that he created a hostile work environment, which led to him being briefly placed on administrative leave in 2020.
The investigation concluded that there was “no evidence that the president was behaving in this way” to create a hostile business environment. But a report said “there is evidence that people feared the president’s retaliation, and they had a legitimate basis for that fear, whether or not that was the president’s intention.”
He was reinstated less than a month after he was placed on leave after the city administration told him to apologize “for any misunderstanding and miscommunication.”
The mayor said the screening process was extensive and that she had personally spoken with the mayor of Ann Arbor and the city manager about Cox’s time there. Those conversations confirmed that he is a “leader of great integrity,” Wu said.
“We are very excited to bring a leader of his experience, wisdom and background to Boston in this role,” she told reporters.
In Boston, Cox spent 15 years in a variety of roles on the police force command staff, including as chief of staff and supervisor of the Office of Professional Development. He oversaw the Boston Police Academy, the Firearms Training Unit, the Police Cadet Unit, and the training of enlisted and sworn officers.
Last Boston Commissioner – Dennis White – He was fired last year after a bitter battle to keep his job after accusations of domestic violence surfaced decades ago.
White was given time off over the allegations, which he denied, just days after his new job. Superintendent General Gregory Long was serving as the acting police commissioner while searching for White’s permanent successor.