Anthony Watson said he woke up, confused, to rough hands shaking him in his seat on the train at Ashmont Station. He had passed out, he realized, after drinking alcohol, and now, early on the morning of July 27, 2018, a Transit Police officer was rousting him at the last stop.
Watson, 32 and slightly built, got up to walk off the Red Line train, he said. He and the officer exchanged words, but he doesn’t remember what they were. The officer grabbed him tightly around the arm, he said. Watson didn’t want any trouble. He told the officer he would leave — but why, he asked, are you grabbing me so hard?
They hadn’t gone more than 5 feet, Watson said, before the officer took out his baton and started beating him with it, hitting him in the ankle. Pain exploded, and Watson begged the officer to stop. The baton broke the skin, Watson said; the officer didn’t listen.
What followed, Suffolk County prosecutors and Transit Police officials allege, was a deliberate and corrupt coverup: the officer arrested Watson on false pretenses and then, with the help of two sergeants, falsified a police report to keep Watson in jail and absolve the officer of wrongdoing.
On Wednesday, a Suffolk County grand jury indicted former officer Dorston Bartlett, 65, on charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and violating a person’s civil rights. His supervisors, Sergeant David Finnerty, 43, and Sergeant Kenny Orcel, 55, were charged with making a false report as a public officer or employee, and accessory after the fact to assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. They are scheduled to be arraigned on March 27.
Watson shared his story with the Globe on Thursday. He had not wanted to speak out at first, he said — he was embarrassed about his circumstances. But, he said, maybe his story would force people in power to fix the system, and help others who have been victimized.
“By me showing face and speaking about my story, if it can change somebody else’s life, then I’m all with that,” he said.
An attorney for the MBTA Police Association, and union officials, did not respond to requests for comment. Efforts to reach Bartlett, Finnerty, and Orcel were not successful Thursday. Bartlett was placed on leave immediately after the incident, and retired over the winter; Finnerty and Orcel were placed on leave in the fall as the investigation unfolded.
Two people briefed on the investigation corroborated Watson’s account.
At the time he was allegedly beaten, Watson said, he had only been in Boston for a little more than a month. He had come from Hartford on a Greyhound bus with about $70 in his pocket, looking to start over somewhere new, away from the drugs and violence in his home city. He said he has two children, a 10-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl, and he wanted to provide for them.
Since he has been here, he said, he has worked for a food truck and the Westin Hotel, and he just got a job at Applebee’s. He is on a waiting list for housing. For now, he said, he stays in shelters or on the street. On Thursday, he was thoughtful and clear as he told his story, pausing occasionally to wipe tears from his eyes.
The night of the alleged assault, he said, he was terrified, and couldn’t understand why the transit officer was beating him. The officer hit him several times, he said, then a second person he believed was an MBTA employee, dressed in a white shirt and a bright safety vest, approached and grabbed his other arm. That employee and the officer escorted him up the escalator, he said, and shoved him out the door.
Once he was outside, Watson said, he turned around and shouted and swore at the two men, demanding to know why they had treated him that way. They started chasing him, he said, and he dropped his bag and ran.
He stopped, he said, when he was down the street and the two men were no longer chasing him. He could still see the station. He sat down because of the pain in his ankle. The police officer returned in a cruiser, Watson said, threw his backpack at him, and told him to leave.
Watson said he flagged down a passerby and told him to call 911. Boston police officers arrived — but then the transit officer came back and intervened, Watson said. The transit officer told the Boston police that he had been looking for Watson, because Watson had assaulted him, he said. Watson tried to protest, but the Boston police handed him over, and the transit officer cuffed him and put him in his cruiser.
As they drove to the police station, Watson said, the officer belittled him, telling him that he was an idiot; that if he had just walked away, he wouldn’t be getting arrested; that no one would believe him.
In the station, Watson said, he pleaded for someone to listen: He hadn’t hurt this cop. This cop had hurt him. But the transit officer grabbed him by the neck, he said, and told him to shut up — that this was why he was being arrested.
Watson said he knew the transit police officer was right, that no one would believe him. He was poor, black, and homeless — “Nobody.” He cried as he remembered the feeling of being completely and totally alone.
“I’m just worthless. You want to throw my life away,” he remembered thinking. “I don’t understand. I fell asleep on the train.”
The officer told him he would be charged with assaulting an officer and disorderly conduct. Watson sat in his jail cell afraid that he could spend years in prison. His ankle burned, like it was on fire. He suffers from chronic gastritis, he said, and didn’t have any of his medications. His stomach was in knots.
But, according to prosecutors, someone on the transit police command staff got wind of what had happened, and reviewed the police report and the video. Hours after Watson was put in his cell, he said, the door swung open and he was released. The investigation into Bartlett, Finnerty, and Orcel had begun.
Watson doesn’t know who the command staff official was who watched the video and freed him. “Somebody wanted to do justice for me,” he said on Thursday. “Thank you.”