A former MBTA police sergeant pleaded not guilty Thursday to accusations that he falsified police reports to cover up for another officer who pleaded guilty to assaulting a man in July 2018 at the MBTA’s Ashmont Station.
Federal agents arrested David Finnerty, 47, of Rutland at his home around 4:30 a.m., his lawyer said. He was arraigned in a Boston federal courtroom hours later and was released on conditions including he not travel outside of New England and only to the continental United States with notice to prosecutors.
Finnerty’s case stretches back years and was originally prosecuted at the local level by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.
But Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden dropped the case last fall after prosecutors said new evidence showed Finnerty was not the source of false or misleading statements in reports authored by transit police after the assault. Hayden’s decision pitted him against top brass at transit police, who said they disagreed with the move.
Federal prosecutors indicted Finnerty on two counts of false reports, with one including aiding and abetting. Each count carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000.
“Our office holds the men and women who wear police uniforms and serve our communities in the highest regard. Instances of police misconduct are rare, but they need to be investigated and prosecuted when they do happen, especially when supervisors are involved as alleged here,” said Acting U.S . Attorney for Massachusetts Joshua Levy.
An arrest warrant was signed Wednesday by Magistrate Judge Paul Levenson. Finnerty is represented by Attorney Bradford Bailey, who argued Finnerty had already been exonerated in Suffolk County Superior Court.
“It is very important to note that my client was not present at nor did he have any participation in, nor has he been accused of the underlying incidents that occurred on Ashmont Station,” Bailey told reporters. “Rather, in my opinion, he is being scapegoated and standing here alone, with neither people above him in the chain of command or people below him standing beside him.”
FBI Boston Special Agent in Charge Jodi Cohen said Finnerty violated his oath by filing false reports and “betrayed the trust placed in him by his fellow officers, and the public.”
“Make no mistake, the FBI will do everything we can to help our law enforcement partners bring to justice anyone who violates their oath by trying to cover up civil rights violations, overshadowing the majority of officers who are dedicated, honest, and fully committed to enforcing our laws and building trust within their communities,” Cohen said.
Bailey said he is looking at the “nexus” of the federal case to “possible allegations of election interference during the 2022 Suffolk District County DA’s office race.”
“It’s too preliminary but no evidence is going to be unexplored,” he said.
Asked if he was referring to allegations that former U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins colluded with local officials to influence the race for Suffolk County District Attorney, Bailey said “I think we’ll see what that nexus is and what may be involved.”
“I’m suggesting that no rock is going to go unturned,” he said. “And my client is standing here as an innocent person. He has every right for us to pursue justice in this case, wherever that may lead us.”
Transit Police Chief Kenneth Green said the department was “astounded” when Suffolk County attorneys decided to drop the case.
“I have always maintained since Hayden’s action if/when this matter was reviewed with an ethical and professional lens, this would be the outcome. This indictment speaks for itself,” Green said in a statement.
Hayden spokesperson James Borghesani said Suffolk County lawyers have “never tarnished the professionalism of our office by engaging in a critical back-and-forth on this matter and we’re not going to start now.”
“The decision to file a nolle prosequi in this case was based on our evaluation of state law, and our ethical obligations as prosecutors in light of our office receiving exculpatory evidence from the MBTA on the eve of Finnerty’s trial,” Borghesani said in a statement.
Prosecutors said Finnerty was the transit police officer in charge and the supervisor of Officer Dorston Bartlett when Bartlett physically assaulted Anthony Watson at the Ashmont MBTA Station on July 27, 2018.
Bartlett pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation last year related to charges stemming from the assault.
Bartlett, according to court documents, arrived at Ashmont Station and was directed to Watson, who was sleeping on a recently arrived Red Line train. Bartlett woke Watson and as the officer was escorting Watson, “unlawfully used force against” him, court documents said.
Bartlett then held his “fully extended metal baton in his right hand” as Watson walked at a slower pace, court documents said.
“Suddenly Officer Bartlett pushed Mr. Watson and held him against a pillar. Mr. Watson dropped his backpack,” defense lawyers wrote. “Officer Bartlett raised his metal baton, cocked his arm back, and swung the baton at Mr. Watson, hitting him in the shin/ankle area. Then Officer Bartlett struck Mr. Watson with the baton two more times.”
The events were recorded by MBTA surveillance cameras, according to court documents.
Bartlett would later tell Boston police officers that he had been looking for Watson to arrest him because Watson had assaulted him on the train, court documents said. Bartlett took Watson to a transit police station, where “in front of several other transit police officers, Officer Bartlett assaulted Mr. Watson again.”
“Had Sergeants Finnerty and Orcel behaved properly, Mr. Watson would have been released from custody,” court documents said.
Finnerty is accused of falsifying an arrest report and a shift briefing regarding Bartlett’s alleged assault of Watson “specifically, by including false and misleading statements and by omitting material information,” prosecutors said.
A state database of police disciplinary records shows Finnerty with a sustained complaint stemming from “criminal conduct” in July 2018. A discipline outcome is listed as “termination or similar.”
Suffolk County prosecutors dropped the case against Finnerty after they said they learned of exculpatory evidence “which fundamentally changed its understanding of the case against the defendant.”
“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,” court documents from the Suffolk DA’s office said. “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.”