SHARON — The dispute started like countless others on city sidewalks and suburban byways across America — with a pile of dog feces.
Near sundown one day last spring, Red Sox Hall of Famer Tommy Harper recalled, he was standing in the doorway of his Sharon home of 33 years when he spotted a neighbor’s dog defecating on his front lawn — again.
The golden Lab was under the control of a man Harper knew: Jon Meterparel, a former on-air personality with WEEI’s now-defunct “Dennis and Callahan” sports talk show. Meterparel has since been best known as the play-by-play voice of the Boston College football and basketball teams.
The sight of Meterparel allegedly walking away from the mess spurred Harper to act. Meterparel was visiting next door with Christine Caswell, the director of undergraduate studies in BC’s Communication Department.
So the 80-year-old Harper scooped the evidence into a plastic bag and rang his neighbor’s bell. His arrival sparked tensions that culminated more than six months later with Caswell reporting him to the Sharon police, and with Harper, who is Black, alleging that Caswell, who is white, tarnished his reputation by lying about him, falsely denying his version of the incidents, and treating him differently from a white neighbor who also objected to her dog leaving excrement on his property.
Harper, a former Red Sox player, coach, and front-office staffer who now consults for the franchise, has advocated for racial justice over his 60 years in Major League Baseball. In an interview, he said Caswell “humiliated and embarrassed me by making up lies about a Black man.”
Harper does not claim that Caswell cited his race or used racial language. But he said racial bias takes many forms.
Caswell, 53, an award-winning former television and radio journalist, denied Harper’s assertions.
“On two occasions within the past seven months, I experienced frightening interactions with a neighbor whose aggressive, profanity-laced confrontations caused me, as a single mother looking to protect myself and my children, to contact Sharon Police,” she wrote to the Globe in December. “Any attempt to characterize these interactions in any other way is reprehensible and libelous.”
She did not respond to requests for further comment.
Meterparel, who also teaches a journalism course at BC, echoed Caswell’s characterization of Harper.
“I witnessed him confront her in an angry, profanity-laced manner,” he said in a statement. “She and her children were frightened after this incident with a man they had never before met. Christine seeking advice from Sharon Police had everything to do with fear and nothing to do with race.”
Meterparel also declined additional comment.
Harper denies both Caswell’s and Meterparel’s assertions. He alleges Caswell, who moved next door to him in 2019, maligned him both by reporting him to the police and falsely portraying him on Facebook as dangerous.
The Sharon police concluded no crime occurred.
Harper said he was taken aback by the ill will that ensued when Caswell opened her door to him. He recalled anticipating a friendly conversation because he was acquainted with Meterparel, who typically called him “buddy.”
The morning after Harper rang her bell, Caswell posted on the neighborhood’s Facebook page that she was “shocked” to open the door and find “the old man that lives next door” on her steps “screaming at us.” She described Harper as “angry, keyed-up and violent-tongued.”
When she asked Harper to step back, she wrote, he “sneered at me and then moved closer.”
“My two teens were rattled to the core and my youngest said he feels like the guy is going to throw a rock through our window,” Caswell wrote.
She posted the location of Harper’s home and warned, “Just a head’s up!!! Might want to steer your dog-walking away from his yard.”
Harper said he was not aware of Caswell’s Facebook post until after she reported him to the police seven months later. He described her account as a damaging mischaracterization. He said he never acted aggressively as Caswell adamantly insisted that everyone in her home always picked up after the dogs and challenged Harper to produce video evidence to support his allegation.
Only later did Caswell state, according to a Sharon police report, that “sometimes when [Meterparel] would walk the dog, he would not pick up the feces.”
Harper said he believes race factored in Caswell’s reaction to him.
“I recognize there are millions of white women who do not lie to police to get the upper hand on an African-American man over a minor dispute,” he said. “But history tells us that they have the power to do so, and that’s the point here. Subtle racism is real, like a summer breeze. You can’t see it, but you can feel it.”
Troubling, too, Harper said, was learning that Caswell and Meterparel treated a white man more respectfully under similar circumstances. Dave Sullivan, Harper’s neighbor of 16 years, said in an interview that he saw a boy, accompanied by Meterparel in 2019, neglect to pick up after one of Caswell’s dogs on his property. The boy was Meterparel’s son.
Sullivan said no one answered the bell at Caswell’s house, so he left a note. When Caswell returned home, Sullivan said, he heard her shout instructions to her daughter, who went to Sullivan’s home, “profusely apologized,” and picked up the dog’s mess.
Sullivan said Meterparel also later apologized.
Sullivan said of Harper, “Tommy and his wife Bonnie are wonderful neighbors. I have deep respect for him. He feels he’s being dragged through the mud, and it seems unjustly so.”
‘I recognize there are millions of white women who do not lie to police to get the upper hand on an African-American man over a minor dispute. But history tells us that they have the power to do so, and that’s the point here. Subtle racism is real, like a summer breeze. You can’t see it, but you can feel it.’
Former Red Sox great Tommy Harper on his neighbor, Christine Caswell
Several other neighbors expressed support for Harper, including Dan McLaughlin, a dog owner. He said, “I’ve never had an unkind word with Tommy, and I’ve never seen the kind of behavior that has been attributed to him.”
Caswell reported Harper to the police on Oct. 27. She told a patrolman at police headquarters that her dogs had been relieving themselves the previous day on a neighbor’s property, which she described as “a woodland area,” when she saw Harper staring at her.
Harper told the investigating officer he merely was looking at Caswell while raking his lawn. He said Caswell gave him the finger and called him a “dirty old man,” which she denied.
Caswell said Harper approached her, rake in hand, and asked her how to contact Meterparel. She responded by asking Harper to stay away from her property.
“Caswell asked me for any advice,” an officer stated in the police report. “She was advised to ensure that her dog feces are always cleaned up, and to avoid seeing or talking to Harper however possible.”
The officer proposed helping Harper and Caswell reconcile, he stated, but Caswell rejected the offer.
Harper and Caswell remain neighbors, though the effects of their experience may linger. In Harper’s case, he said he feels uncomfortable in his neighborhood for the first time in 33 years.
“I haven’t given anyone reason to fear me, yet when my neighbors cross the street when they see me working in my yard, I wonder if they do so because of social distancing or because of Caswell’s warning people to steer clear of me,” he said.
Bob Hohler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.