A Northeastern University student was studying alone in an empty classroom last month when a man took a seat nearby, mumbling to himself. When she got up to leave, he allegedly pushed her against a wall, exposed his genitals, and tried to rape her.
She shoved him back and managed to escape down a hallway, screaming for help, while her attacker fled on the MBTA’s Orange Line. Minutes later, he allegedly exposed himself to another woman on a train at Forest Hills Station, police say.
The terrified passenger alerted authorities, but the man slipped away.
It wasn’t the first time.
Police caught up with Kennedy D. Colson Jr., a 29-year-old Level 3 sex offender, two days later in Jamaica Plain and charged him with both crimes. But a review of Colson’s long criminal history reveals not only a frightening pattern of sexual assaults in public places, but also the systemic challenges authorities face in keeping sex offenders off the street.
Colson was released from jail in May after serving 18 months for sexually assaulting a woman in Somerville. Just two weeks later, he was accused of sexually assaulting a woman at the Boston Public Library in Copley Square and ordered held on $3,500 cash bail. But Suffolk County prosecutors dropped that charge on July 12, citing the unavailability of two witnesses, allowing him to go free.
The assault on NU’s campus happened just six days later.
“If someone can’t be out of jail for more than one week without reoffending, he should be deemed a sexually dangerous person,” said Colby Bruno, senior legal counsel at the Victim Rights Law Center in Boston. “It’s important in a case like this where obviously he lacks the impulse control and he is a consistent threat to women.”
Offenders who are deemed sexually dangerous remain in state custody at the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater under a civil commitment law after their criminal sentences have ended. Between 2009 and 2017, an average of 20 people a year were cleared for release after either a jury or two psychologists concluded they no longer posed a threat, according to state figures.
Suffolk County prosecutors also charged Colson with failing to register as a sex offender in June after police discovered he wasn’t living at the Roslindale address he had provided authorities. But a week later they dismissed the charge, saying it would have been impossible for him to register while in jail.
The assault at the public library happened the afternoon of May 24, when a woman was washing her hands in a second-floor ladies room. Colson allegedly emerged from a handicapped stall and grabbed her by the neck, according to court records.
She fought back, punching him in the face as he sexually assaulted her. He fled when another woman came out of a stall and yelled at him to leave the victim alone, records show.
Boston police released a surveillance photograph of the suspect, and Colson was spotted four days later at the library, sleeping in a chair near the ladies room where the woman was assaulted.
On May 29, Colson pleaded not guilty in Boston Municipal Court to an indecent assault and battery charge. A judge ordered him to wear a GPS monitoring device if he were released, but Colson couldn’t make bail and remained in custody for six weeks until prosecutors dismissed the charge.
In a court filing, Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins’s office wrote that prosecutors were unable to present the case to a grand jury for indictment “due to witness unavailability.” As a result, dropping the charges was “in the interest of justice,” the filing stated.
In response to inquiries from The Boston Globe, Rollins’s spokeswoman Renee Nadeau Algarin said in a statement this week that prosecutors “were unable to move forward in the grand jury without the vital testimony of the victim and a witness — one of whom was out of the state and the other out of the country.” They dismissed the case “based on our ethical and legal obligations.”
The dismissal “in no way precludes the Commonwealth from charging this offense in the future,” she said. “Efforts to obtain the witnesses’ presence have and will continue.”
Boston police Sergeant Detective John Boyle said police and prosecutors are actively working on the investigation and “we do hope to charge the individual.”
Colson’s lawyer in that case did not return calls seeking comment.
A library spokeswoman declined to comment on the alleged assault, but said the BPL “has in place procedures and systems to ensure the safety of all its patrons, employees, and collections” and has received additional funding for security in the city’s recently passed budget.
Last month, Colson pleaded not guilty to the alleged offenses at NU and on the Orange Line, including assault to rape, kidnapping, assault and battery, and open and gross lewdness. He was also charged again with failing to register as a sex offender after he was released from jail in July.
At his arraignment for the Orange Line incident, his lawyer, Ross E. Schreiber, said Colson had been unable to provide the sex offender registry board a valid address because he was homeless. He had been staying at the Pine Street Inn but needed to remain there a few days longer to obtain the paperwork he needed to register.
“He’s living hand to mouth on the street,” Schreiber said. “He’s got no one on the outside that could assist him. He’s estranged from his parents and anyone else he could rely on in the area.”
Attorney Eric Tennen, who has no involvement in Colson’s case but has represented many sex offenders, said there is a “glaring gap” in the criminal justice system for released sex offenders who may be suffering from mental health issues or substance abuse but are often denied access to services.
“There really is nothing available to most men and especially sex offenders that helps them transition out of prison or jail, so they are left to their own devices,” Tennen said. “The criminal justice system is good at charging and incarcerating them, but it’s not good at getting help.”
On Friday, a Roxbury Municipal Court judge ordered Colson held without bail on attempted rape charges in the NU assault. Prosecutors were prepared to present evidence that Colson would pose a threat to the community if released, but Colson’s lawyer waived the hearing and agreed to his detention.
Colson has a lengthy criminal record, which includes convictions for sexual assault, assault with a dangerous weapon, and violating a restraining order.
In November 2017, Colson slipped into the ladies room at the Davis Square MBTA Station in Somerville, dropped his pants to expose his genitals, and groped a woman when she emerged from a stall, court records show.
He pleaded guilty to indecent assault and battery and was sentenced to 18 months in jail. Middlesex District Court Judge Jean M. Curran told him he was required to register as a sex offender when he was released and warned him that “at some point” prosecutors might seek to have him declared sexually dangerous.
That never happened.
Two weeks after his sentence ended, Colson was again hiding out in a ladies bathroom, authorities say, waiting for another victim.
Andrea Estes and John Ellement of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Alyssa Lukpat contributed to this report. Shelley Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.