How to Get Arrested in Charlestown, MA

by Dave on October 28, 2015

in ,Boston,Reminiscent

I’ve been bestowed with the silver bracelets of law enforcement a few times (mostly) during my youth. I’ve lived a fairly respectable life. Never been nicked for anything particularly seedy or concerning. There was that one time in Charlestown, MA however, where a classic case of mistaken identity truly scared the pants off me and provided a glimpse of how the “other half” lives like I’ve never had before or since. This isn’t a cautionary tale quite simply because it could have happened to absolutely anybody currently reading this. Before time completely erases the details from my memory I think it bears repeating and I’ve been waiting for a long time to do so. We laugh about it now, but in short – for an hour and a half in 2010 I may have been Boston’s most wanted. The resulting tale I’m now able to tell is worth its weight in police-issued titanium. Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.

My sister and her husband have a nice little house on Green Street in the very heart of The Town. While rented now, I’d often come to visit while they lived there and even had my own little basement bedroom which according to neighbors was a speakeasy of some sort once upon a time. While a terrific and trendy place to live in modern times, Charlestown definitely has a colorful past to say the least, kid. During one such visit she and I had dinner with friends in Cambridge, came back to find a sweet parking spot right in front of her pad and then decided we wanted just one more glass of weeknight wine. Within seconds of walking out her front door to patronize a liquor store on Bunker Hill Street, things took a strange turn for the surreal which I will never forget.


After closing the front door behind me, I glanced down to where Green and Bunker Hill intersect and saw a Park Ranger car quickly slow down as the driver quite obviously began giving me the deep “once over”. Before you wonder what the heck a Park Ranger was doing in Charlestown, let me explain. The U.S.S. Constitution, one of the most treasured historical… treasures… in the country is docked in the Navy Yard less than a mile away. For context, on September 11th, 2001 I worked nearby and they evacuated the entire neighborhood fearing one of the Navy’s six original frigates may be the next target. The Rangers are “Old Ironsides“‘ personal police force, and their presence is nothing out of the ordinary.

Ranger Rick continued on his way as the obligatory “that’s odd” flashed through my mind and within half a minute I’d reached my destination just around the corner. I begrudgingly bought a bottle of oakey Chardonnay, as the sis hates Pinot Grigio, and stood waiting in line to cash out. The Ranger drove past again, in the opposite direction, and glared at me through the front window so there was now no mistake he’d turned around to have another gander at… me? Nah, can’t be. When he appeared a third time, after making another u-turn and then pulling over in front of the store, however, my paranoia was replaced by genuine curiosity. I’ve never held up an armored car, and fifteen minutes ago I was snarfing down tacos near Inman Square. The lady in line in front of me noticed him too and said something to the effect of “Dear Lord, what do they want to question me about now?“. I replied, “No, Ma’am. I think he’s here for me.” And as strange as it felt at the time – I meant it.

Park-RangerThe six-foot bespectacled Ranger walked into the store, never breaking eye contact with me, and requested I come speak to him outside. Being the slightly right-leaning and largely law-abiding citizen that I am, I quickly finished my transaction and obliged. Once out on the street he instructed me to stand against a wall underneath a streetlight and to put down the brown paper bag containing that bottle of wine I really didn’t want to drink in the first place. I was still more curious than frightened so assumed the position without having even asked him to explain his interest in little ol’ me. “Look straight ahead and don’t move.” were his next instructions and as I stiffened up to attention I noticed a proper Boston Police cruiser begin slowly passing in front of us. Slowly and deliberately. “Am I in some kind of… lineup?” I wondered. This may have been the exact moment I started to worry. Just a wee bit.

The cruiser passed us, pulled over to the side, and the front window rolled down. “This will be the end of it.” I assured myself. The cop leaned out, looked at the Ranger, and… nodded. Not in a “hey, how ya doin'” sort of way. In a “this is the dirtbag we’re looking for” sort of way. As you can imagine, I could no longer contain my curiosity/terror and spoke up. “Put your hands behind your back, Sir.” was the reply. “I’ll explain everything in the car.”

This was not my first experience with handcuffs (feel free to spike that volleyball in the comments if you must,) but it was my first time being linked up in the back of a Crown Vic which had the single, bench-like front seat pushed back so far I had to turn my head to the side to keep from breaking my nose. The Ranger got into the car, further jamming the vinyl into my orifices, and did me the favor of finally explaining the situation. “You’ve been identified as someone who tried to snatch a purse in the Navy Yard earlier tonight.” Despite the situation, never in my life have I fought so hard to hide a smile. I calmly explained that I’d been in the neighborhood for less than 10 minutes and for the first time since 8am that morning. I told him my sister lived 200 feet away where I was staying and could corroborate my account. I told him that I had the keys in my pocket to the black Charger almost within view around the corner which would have a hood warm to the touch. To my relief these reasonable and potentially time-saving facts seemed to give him pause for thought and he exited the car to go speak with the policeman who was still parked with my accusers nearby. “Now, this will be the end of it.” I assured myself again.

The Ranger rolled the back window down and instructed me to stare straight ahead. “Do not move!” he ordered, no doubt to ensure the identity of the plaintiffs – whom I would later learn were three twenty-something women stumbling home after a night of adult beverages at the almighty Warren Tavern. “You’re kidding, right?” I asked in a severely muffled tone resulting in him finally shifting the seat forward. I did as I was told, and my peripheral vision was then filled with the cruiser making another painfully slow pass in the interest of “getting their man”. Another long couple of minutes ticked by, the Ranger re-entered his vehicle (driver’s seat this time), and to my now heightened concern informed me I was indeed public enemy #1. After reiterating my innocence, and the multitude of ways in which he could easily confirm it himself in under three minutes, he informed me they were now certain of probable cause and that we’d be heading to the station. I decided the best thing I could say at this point would be absolutely nothing and shortly thereafter found myself handcuffed to a chair in a brightly lit room inside their station in the Navy Yard.

The Ranger I’d been dealing with walked into another room, closing the door behind him, and I was left with a new, much younger version to keep an eye on me. I jokingly described what had happened, how I even felt bad for wasting their time while the real culprit was probably out liberating someone else’s Prada, cracked wise a few more times and to my relief he actually smiled. “Look, we don’t actually like you for this.” His use of Columbo-esque TV-cop-procedural lingo put me at ease, slightly, and I realized they were taking their cues from the Boston cop who hadn’t even spoken to or looked at me. Ranger Rick walked back into the room, now holding a piece of paper, and turned on a video camera I hadn’t noticed sitting on a table nearby. He wheeled it over, pointed it directly at my face, and issued his next order: “Read this.”

He held the paper in front of me and I quickly committed the contents to memory for all time: “Hey. Give me your purse. Forget it. Nevermind.” These were the words the true snatcher had apparently strung together during his failed snatchery. I realized then that the pissed-up former Warren patrons must be in the next room, presumably watching a close-up of my face on the well-lit video feed. “Now, THIS will be the end of it!” I thought as I dug deep for my strongest Canadian accent and recited the potentially prosecuting prose. “Again.” Rick requested. Done – the only way it could have sounded more Canadian is if I’d added “Buddy” at the end. “Once more,” he added for what would hopefully be the third time charm. It was.

The Boston cop opened the door, shook his head, then stepped back and closed it again as if the Rangers and I were door-to-door vacuum salesmen on a Sunday. In an instant my Thursday night adventure was over, and I’ve never felt a remotely comprable sense of relief. As I stood up and rubbed my exonerated wrists I could tell from the looks on their faces the Rangers genuinely felt terrible. I’m sure law enforcement of any kind is trained never to apologize for obvious reasons, but Rick did turn to his Padawn and say, “I think offering Mr. Pye a ride home is the least we can do.” The least indeed, Sir. The least indeed.

What then did I learn from this experience? It isn’t that I hate police (or Park Rangers). They were doing their job, they went by the book and let’s not forget that I was positively identified by three separate people – twice. My biggest takeaway is how easily anyone can be pulled off the street, cuffed and stuffed, and then dropped into the system on the word of… anyone. There are at least five documentaries on Netflix right now about people being imprisoned for decades due to mistaken identity. Another five about the pro-bono lawyer groups who donate their time to overturning those life-destroying cockups. There are fifteen times as many articles online about how eyewitness accounts are the last thing anyone should ever be convicted as a result of. It’s an everyday occurrence – and a terrifying one. Lots is already being done to improve said system, and my joining their ranks won’t change anything, so my advice then to everyone is, simply: watch your ass. And Columbo – it’s brilliant and also on Netflix.


If you’re still reading this opus of a post you’re a trooper. Hopefully you can forgive the length and chalk it up to me having not written regularly for half a decade. There’s a denouement, however, which I’d still like to add. When the Rangers pulled up in front of my sister’s house, there she was on the front stoop speaking frantically into her phone. In addition to the liquor store and a bodega which sells the largest selection of religious candles you’ve ever seen, there’s also a rather notorious housing project at Bunker Hill and Green. Undoubtedly she feared the worse – she’s my sister. I stepped out of the back seat and wondered why Ranger Rick was also exiting the vehicle. Surely he didn’t feel the need to explain the situation to my sis, or privately apologize to me? What he did, in fact, was a far greater gesture. He opened his trunk, passed me the paper bag containing my oakey Chardonnay and said with a smile, “Have a great rest of your evening“.

All was forgiven.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Bryan October 28, 2015 at 6:46 pm

So… How hard was it to refrain from reciting it like Fenster during his lineup in The Usual Suspects.

Leave a Comment