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Prosecutor details alleged Transit Police beating of homeless man, coverup

Anthony Watson was allegedly beaten by a Transit Police officer last summer while sleeping on a train at the Ashmont MBTA stop. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

MBTA Transit Police Officer Dorston Bartlett beat a homeless man on a train at Ashmont Station last July with “unnecessary, unreasonable, and unjustified” force, and two of Bartlett’s superiors tried to cover it up, a prosecutor alleged Tuesday.

The allegations came during the Suffolk Superior Court arraignment of Bartlett, 65, of Lynn, who has since retired, and two Transit Police sergeants, David Finnerty, 43, of Rutland, and Kenny Orcel, 55, of Chelmsford.

Bartlett, wearing a dark gray suit, pleaded not guilty to charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, assault and battery, misleading a police officer, civil rights violation, and filing a false police report.

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Finnerty and Orcel each said “not guilty, ma’am” when asked for their pleas on charges of filing false reports and accessory after the fact of the alleged assault. All three defendants were released on personal recognizance with orders to stay away from the alleged victim, 32-year-old Anthony Watson.

Assistant District Attorney Andrew Doherty said during the hearing that Bartlett had responded to the Ashmont T stop early on July 27 to remove Watson, who was sleeping in a train car.

Bartlett grabbed Watson by the arm and shoved him toward the door, Doherty said, using his baton to strike Watson “three times with full force” in the leg, causing him to collapse. Then, prosecutors said, Bartlett and a T inspector shoved Watson out of the station and chased him from the area.

He collapsed again on the sidewalk in the area of Peabody Square and told a passerby to call 911. Bartlett drove to Watson’s location, tossed him his backpack, and told him to “[g]et the [expletive] out of here,” court records show.

Later, Doherty said, Bartlett was parked in his cruiser on Gallivan Boulevard “apparently monitoring” police scanner chatter, and he drove to Peabody Square when he heard Boston police officers were responding to the call to aid Watson.

Bartlett told the Boston officers he had been looking for Watson to arrest him for assaulting him, Doherty said. Bartlett ultimately took Watson to a Transit Police station for booking.

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While at booking, a handcuffed Watson told “anyone who would listen” that he was the actual assault victim, prompting Bartlett to grab him by the throat and face and push him backwards, telling him, “this is why you were arrested,” according to Doherty and prosecutors’ statement of the case.

Later, Doherty said, Bartlett, Finnerty, and Orcel watched surveillance footage of Bartlett beating Watson at the Ashmont Station, footage that clearly showed an unreasonable use of force. However, the statement of the case said, Bartlett was initially too forthcoming in his report on the incident.

“Bartlett’s initial draft of the report describing the incident was a problem … it told the truth,” the statement said. “There was no justification to beat Anthony Watson. Recognizing this, Sgt. David Finnerty drafted a false and fraudulent report which falsely justified the use of force and arrest.”

In addition, the statement said, Finnerty “used his computer to type a fraudulent narrative into a Microsoft Word document, printed it, but didn’t save the word document. Finnerty then handed this printout to Bartlett, who entered the report in as his own.”

Orcel, the statement said, “well knowing the report to be false, then approved the report in the software system. Finnerty, well knowing the statements to be false, also incorporated the same false statements into a morning summary briefing that was circulated to the Command Staff and Lieutenants of the MBTA Police.”

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Watson’s fortunes changed later that morning, when MBTA Deputy Police Chief Sean Reynolds arrived at the station, according to Doherty.

He said Finnerty told Reynolds “there had been an incident” earlier but didn’t disclose his own allegedly false report, Doherty said. Reynolds viewed the footage and reports and ordered Watson released from custody, according to prosecutors. Then a probe of the officers was launched.

None of the defendants spoke to reporters as they left court Tuesday.

Douglas I. Louison, a lawyer for Orcel, said outside the court that his client “acted professionally” and has “been a professional law enforcement officer and supervisor for many years with distinction. He served with distinction in the military.”

Orcel, Louison said, “certainly never intended [to submit] nor in fact submitted a false report.”

Bartlett’s lawyer couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, and Finnerty’s attorney declined to comment.

A supporter of Bartlett who didn’t provide his name said after the hearing the truth would come out at trial. Asked what the truth was, the man said, “obviously not what’s in the news.”

Bartlett was placed on leave immediately after the incident and later retired. Finnerty and Orcel were placed on leave last fall as the investigation unfolded.

Watson spoke to the Globe earlier this month, shortly after the three defendants were indicted.

He said he remembered thinking at the police station, “I’m just worthless. You want to throw my life away.”


Evan Allen of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.

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