Fourth in an occasional series. Read part one, part two, and part three.
Two weeks after the crash, Anne-Marie Castor rubbed her left knee and felt the glass still embedded beneath her skin. The letter from the tow truck company made the pain worse. Her car ― her lifeline ― was totaled. She would have to borrow $631 from a friend just to have it junked.
Until July 28, 2019, when a troubled Boston police officer slammed his cruiser into her 2004 Honda Element as she crossed a Mattapan intersection with a green light, Castor had lived on the edge of poverty. The disabled grandmother had a little apartment in public housing in Easton, her car, and just enough extra money for church hats and dresses. Now, she faced ruin.
None of it was Castor’s fault. But the blue line that protects problem cops ― even when they break the rules, even when they leave an elderly woman thanking God she is still alive ― is a powerful force. And City Hall’s maddening bureaucracy can make it worse.
Often, the meek and unconnected pay the price. In Castor’s case, neither the off-duty officer who ran the light and T-boned her car nor the city has offered a penny to help her ― or even apologized.
“Whatever the police do to you, you cannot do anything,” said Castor, 66, through an interpreter in her native Haitian Creole. “They treat me worse than a dog.”
On the morning of the crash, Officer Dwain Jackson had his lights and sirens wailing, but there was no emergency, according to a Boston police internal affairs report. Jackson wasn’t even supposed to be driving the blue-and-white cruiser at the time; he had disappeared with it four hours earlier when his shift ended. He had driven to a female friend’s house and, he said, fallen asleep. He was rushing to return the cruiser when he struck Castor’s car.
Jackson, 48, has a long history with police internal affairs, making him, by the numbers, one of the most frequent rule breakers on the force, records show. His misconduct has included bad judgment, neglect of duty, and leaving his post. In one case, four years before the crash, fellow officers had pulled Jackson over after he had flipped on his police lights to rush a woman and her daughter trying to make their train. The ride was a clear violation of department policies. But no one bothered to investigate, and the matter sat dormant for years.
The department knew Jackson was a problem, but left him free to flout the rules again — this time in a potentially devastating way.
Castor never saw him coming. She had just dropped off a friend in Mattapan and was heading home on Cummins Highway through a green light. Jackson was flying down River Street with his lights and sirens blaring. He rammed her Honda, shattering the driver’s window, crumpling the door, flattening all four tires, and pushing the car up onto a traffic island.
Castor was briefly knocked out. Jackson climbed out of his cruiser to check on her. Witnesses told police he was “very unsteady on his feet due to the accident.”
Jackson was not tested for alcohol or drugs because a supervisor who responded to the scene determined it was not necessary. Unlike many other city employees, Boston police do not face mandatory drug and alcohol testing after a serious crash in a city car.
Police investigators determined the crash was Jackson’s fault and cited him for traffic violations for failing to stop at a red light, failing to use care in passing, and improper use of sirens or lights. Jackson has appealed the citation.
There the matter ended. As a Globe investigation revealed is often the case, the BPD’s internal affairs department quickly closed the case without ever referring it to the Suffolk district attorney’s office. A department spokesman said Jackson’s violations were civil — not criminal — so a referral to the district attorney was not warranted.
The department ordered Jackson to serve at least six months of a year-long suspension.
Like many large cities, Boston does not use traditional auto insurance. The city is self-insured, and deals directly with complainants, using municipal coffers to pay people seeking reimbursement for damages incurred from a collision with a city-owned vehicle. The process can take significantly longer than a regular insurance payout.
When Castor appealed to Boston City Hall for compensation for her totaled car, Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration denied her claim and declined to tell the Globe why, citing potential litigation. And that was that: nothing in the way of simple human consideration or compensation for Anne-Marie Castor.
“It’s not my fault,” Castor told the Globe. “It wasn’t negligence. I didn’t do anything for this to happen.”
It was only when the Globe began asking about the case last month that Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins opened an investigation to determine whether criminal charges should have been brought. It is one of four cases unearthed by Globe reporting that are newly under review by prosecutors. Rollins’s office declined to comment on the cases.
Mayor Walsh, who has often blamed failures in police accountability on the previous administration, declined a request for an interview. Both of Jackson’s emergency driving cases occurred during Walsh’s City Hall tenure.
“I am committed to taking the action needed to enact systemic reforms at our Police Department to increase transparency and accountability at every level,” Walsh said in a statement.
In response to this story, the Walsh administration said it will now push to make alcohol and drug testing mandatory for police involved in serious motor vehicle crashes, but any changes to the policy must be part of contract negotiations. The district attorney’s office called such testing “common sense.”
Boston Police Commissioner William Gross also declined an interview request. In a statement, he said misconduct will not be tolerated.
“We are committed to identifying and investigating any conduct that does not uphold our values, and in the case of Officer Jackson, issued disciplinary action after an investigation,” Gross said.
Jackson did not respond to requests for comment and the department declined to make him available. An attorney who handled one of his cases, Ken Anderson, said: “Officer Jackson is a well-liked and well-respected officer.”
Jackson joined the Boston Police Department more than 20 years ago. He has been recognized for bravery, earning at least two awards for his actions responding to a bank robbery and a home invasion.
But records show his career has also been marked by frequent allegations of wrongdoing: In the last decade, the department has opened 10 internal affairs cases against him, and sustained eight. Only seven active officers on a force of roughly 2,000 have had more sustained allegations in the last decade than Jackson.
In November 2015, Jackson was on duty and driving a cruiser when a female friend called him and asked for help getting to work, according to an internal investigative report. He picked her and her daughter up in his cruiser and flipped on his police lights.
Two BPD supervisors saw him and, believing he was responding to an emergency, turned on their own lights to help. But it quickly became clear there was no emergency. The supervisors told Jackson over the radio to stop.
The supervisors filed an internal complaint, but no one investigated. Jackson later said he believed that no further paperwork was required because the incident was being “handled in house.” And he was right. Nothing happened — until after the 2019 crash.
That July morning, Jackson had finished an overtime tour of duty in Hyde Park at 3:45 a.m. But he never returned his cruiser, as department policy dictates. Instead he drove to the home of a friend, where he fell asleep, woke up late, and then raced out the door.
Anne-Marie Castor had just dropped off a friend in Mattapan and was heading back home to Easton. Castor liked driving people, particularly those in need. She drove the elderly to get groceries at Stop & Shop and Price Rite, drove people with immigration issues to get assistance, and even drove can collectors to redeem recyclables for nickels.
“That’s me; that’s how I am,” Castor said through a translator. “I like to help people.”
Seeking a better life, she emigrated from Haiti to Guadalupe, where she applied for a visa to the United States, she said. She arrived in 1987 and lived in Mattapan and Dorchester before moving in 1999 to Brockton.
She worked as a housekeeper and a nurse’s aide. But in 2004, Castor suffered an asthma attack and she nearly passed out while working. She was forced to retire because she could not afford medication to keep her asthma in check.
With her four children grown, Castor downsized and moved in 2016 to an apartment in Easton. Living on Social Security benefits meant money was tight, but at least she owned her 2004 green Honda outright. That car kept her tethered to her community.
That morning in Mattapan Square, she did not hear the siren, Castor said, and did not see the flashing lights. When the police cruiser hit her, the airbags exploded and the world faded as Castor passed out.
When Castor woke up, the officer who had hit her was out of his cruiser and approached her crumpled car. He seemed groggy and looked like he was in pain, she said, and he asked her whether she was OK.
“I’m not sure,” Castor recalled saying, “but God is good.”
Then the officer called out in pain and asked the gathering crowd for help. Castor’s door wouldn’t budge so she crawled over the center console to the other side of the car. Bystanders pulled her out of the passenger door.
Ambulances took Castor and Officer Jackson to hospitals. She had a scrape on her arm, glass in her knee, and a headache, but X-rays found no broken bones. Jackson also was treated and released. Tow trucks hauled away both vehicles, including Castor’s totaled Honda.
For the next two weeks, an achy Castor sat at home, quiet and depressed. She assumed someone would get in touch — Boston police or City Hall — to make things right.
Help never came.
She retained a law firm, but that hasn’t helped much. When contacted by the Globe, Castor’s attorney did not know that Jackson had been disciplined for misusing emergency lights and sirens in the crash. The law offices of Donald E. Green made it clear it had no interest in talking to a reporter about the case.
“I was a Boston police officer for 20 years and we don’t want to get involved,” Green told the Globe before hanging up. “You’re wasting my time.”
Castor’s basic insurance coverage wouldn’t pay for the car. Bills added up. She borrowed $631 to pay the tow truck company to junk her car, then another $6,000 to buy a used 2010 Ford Explorer. Her Social Security benefit doesn’t pay enough to cover all her expenses.
She now goes to a food pantry.
She still rubs her knee where the glass had been, an old habit. And she still thinks about the crash, pulling up a picture on her phone of the mangled car.
If she ever got to speak to someone in charge — someone like the mayor or police commissioner — she would want to tell them what happened. She would tell them the crash wasn’t her fault and ask to be made whole. She just wants what’s fair.
“It’s not good at all,” Castor said, “the way they treat me.”
Andrew Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan. Evan Allen can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen.