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DA Hayden drops charges in corruption case involving MBTA police officer after new evidence found

Anthony Watson posed for a portrait at Downtown Crossing in Boston in 2019. Watson, 32, was allegedly beaten by a Transit Police officer in 2018, then falsely arrested in an effort by the officer and two sergeants to cover it up. Watson spent the night in jail before being released.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Suffolk District Attorney Kevin R. Hayden’s office has dropped criminal charges against an MBTA Transit Police sergeant accused of covering up the beating of a homeless man in 2018 after new information came to light, authorities said Monday.

In court papers, Suffolk prosecutors said they could not continue the case against David Finnerty after Transit Police discovered a previously unknown computer record that prosecutors said showed Finnerty had not added false information to a 2018 police report on the assault.

“Prior to the discovery of this evidence, the Commonwealth firmly believed the defendant was the author of numerous false statements made in a police report which appeared to justify a police officer’s misuse of force,” prosecutors wrote. “This new evidence establishes that, although the defendant did revise some portions of the report, the defendant was not the source of the false and misleading statements that are at issue in this case.”

James Borghesani, a spokesman for Hayden, said Monday the decision to drop the case was based solely on prosecutors’ ethical obligations, not any friction between Hayden and Transit Police leadership that surfaced during the Democratic primary, a bruising race in which Hayden defeated Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo.

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“This is proper procedure when you receive new information that undercuts the existing theory of the case,” he said. “There is no connection with any other case. This is strictly us acting quickly on new information received by the Transit Police and moving forward in the interest of justice.”

In a statement, Transit Police Chief Kenneth Green said they disagreed with the language Hayden’s office used in court papers to formally dismiss the charges against Finnerty. Hayden’s office filed what’s known as a nolle prosequi statement.

“We are disappointed with the decision to nolle prosequi the Commonwealth’s case against Sergeant Finnerty,’' Green said. “There is specific language contained therein (nolle prosequi) that we particularly disagree with. Addressing said language at this time and in this forum would not be fruitful.”

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Transit Police said its investigators only recently learned the department’s report writing system can provide detailed information on when documents were revised.

“It is/was our firm belief our knowledge and ability to obtain this version of the report was not available to us,’' Sullivan said in a statement. “After our IT representative was notified by investigators and contacted the vendor, an update was performed by the vendor on our records management system on or about October 4, 2022, which allowed us to go back outside the queue and obtain an earlier version of the report.’'

Earlier this year, a Globe report raised questions about whether Hayden’s office tried to quash a separate case involving two other Transit Police officers. The story reported that Hayden’s top deputy, Kevin Mullen, told an attorney for one of the accused officers that he had “no appetite to prosecute this case.”

Borghesani has defended how Suffolk prosecutors handled that case. Under pressure from Transit Police leaders, Hayden named former Massachusetts inspector general Glenn Cunha to serve as special prosecutor in the case.

In his statement on Monday, Green said the Transit Police would fight any effort by Finnerty to rejoin the department.

Early on July 27, 2018, Transit Police Officer Dorston Bartlett went to the MBTA’s Red Line Ashmont station to remove Anthony Watson, a homeless man who was sleeping on a train, according to court records.

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Bartlett grabbed Watson by the arm and shoved him toward the door, using his baton to strike Watson “three times with full force” in the leg, prosecutors have said. Bartlett and an MBTA inspector shoved Watson out of the station and chased him away. When Boston police arrived and started speaking with Watson, Bartlett took him into custody. Watson was later released without charges by a ranking officer.

In July, Bartlett pleaded guilty in Suffolk Superior Court to violating Watson’s civil rights, two counts of assault and battery and one count of filing false police reports, records show. Bartlett, who was placed on leave immediately after the incident and later retired, was placed on two years probation, records show.

Finnerty was accused of drafting a report that falsely justified Bartlett’s use of force against Watson. On Monday, his lawyer, Brad Bailey, applauded Hayden’s office for dropping the case and said the charges would have been dropped three years ago if the information had surfaced then.

“Had we known about this particular evidence, there is no way that case would have lasted the full three and a half years,’' Bailey said. “Obviously this has been a very long and difficult period for our client and, of course, for his family. From the moment I met him, he has maintained and insisted on his innocence. In my opinion, this is vindication for him.”

Former Suffolk district attorney Rachael Rollins, now the US attorney for Massachusetts, dropped the charges against a third officer charged, Kenny Orcel because he was not given what is known as a Garrity warning, which parallels the Miranda warning against self-incrimination but applies only to law enforcement facing internal hearings.

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The state Civil Service Commission rejected Orcel’s request to be reinstated on the force.

Watson, the man beaten by Bartlett, has filed a civil rights lawsuit against all three men that is pending in US District Court in Boston.

Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Suffolk District Attorney Kevin R. Hayden’s office had dropped criminal charges against former Transit Police Officer Kevin Green. Those charges have remained active.


John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.