FALL RIVER — Michael Pessoa, a veteran Fall River patrol officer awaiting trial for assaulting and violating the civil rights of three men while on duty, has been terminated from the police force effective immediately, acting Police Chief Paul Gauvin announced on Wednesday.
“My decision to terminate him was based on the findings of a hearing officer designated by the city to determine whether Mr. Pessoa had engaged in serious misconduct in violation of Fall River Police Department Rules and Regulations. The hearing officer found substantial evidence that Mr. Pessoa had engaged in egregious violations of Police Department Rules and Regulations and that termination was warranted. These findings and my decision to terminate Mr. Pessoa have no bearing on the pending criminal allegations against him, which will be adjudicated through the criminal justice system,” Gauvin indicated in a statement.
The acting police chief went on to say that the courts have determined that police officers voluntarily “adhere to a higher standard of conduct” and follow the laws that they are sworn to enforce.
“… and behave in a manner that brings honor and respect for rather than public distrust of law enforcement personnel. In this case, Mr. Pessoa did not adhere to that standard of conduct, and that is the basis for his termination,” wrote Gauvin.
Pessoa was indicted in June 2019 on 15 counts of assault, civil rights violations and filing false police reports.
The patrol officer, who has been on the police force for approximately 19 years, has been free on $5,000 cash bail since his arraignment and on unpaid leave.
Last month, a Bristol County Superior Court judge dismissed four charges associated with a fourth alleged victim, citing prosecutors from the Bristol County District Attorney’s office failed to prove that Pessoa’s action of excessive force wasn’t justified when he injured the handcuffed man against a table in the booking room in 2019.
Superior Court Judge Thomas F. McGuire Jr., in his ruling filed Dec. 6, did not dismiss three additional indictments requested by Pessoa and his defense attorney, Frank Camera.
Criminal case leads to backlash
The criminal case against Pessoa has affected the careers of at least three fellow officers, two of whom admitted to filing false police reports to the grand jury that heard the case. It's also had a domino effect on other criminal cases.
During the investigation conducted by Fall River Police Chief Jeffrey Cardoza when he headed up the major crimes unit, officers Thomas Roberts, Shawn Aguiar and Andrew DeMelo admitted to filing the false reports.
Roberts and Aguiar, who were granted immunity, testified in grand jury against Pessoa. DeMelo, who did not appear before the grand jury, resigned the day Pessoa was arrested by Cardoza at police headquarters.
(Cardoza is currently on medical leave and plans to retire from the police department after more than 30 years in March.)
Aguiar has since left the police department and Roberts continues to fight for his job as a police officer with a civil case pending against the city.
Last March, McGuire denied Roberts' request to identify himself as plaintiff “John Doe” in the court case filed in February.
Roberts used the pseudonym when he filed the action against the city and the judge denied the use of a false name the same time, he denied the police officer’s request for a preliminary injunction.
WPRI recently reported the identity of another police officer, William Silvia, who allegedly filed a false police report when he and Pessoa arrested a man in 2018. Reporters from the Providence television station reported the allegation of a false report came up during Cardoza’s testimony that Silvia’s report against a man arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest did not match scenes from a video.
After the grand jury indictment, the Bristol County District Attorney’s office has had to notify defense attorneys and their clients of the officers' misdeeds.
Lawsuits related to Pessoa
So far, the city has paid out over $280,000 in civil lawsuits against the city where Pessoa is named as a defendant with cases dating back to 2010.
Last April, the city paid out $32,000 to Kimberly Viera, who claimed that in a lawsuit filed in federal court in October 2020, Pessoa took her into custody and assaulted her after she videotaped him and another officer on her cell phone while they detained two of her friends as they were standing in a check-out line at a local retail store in October 2017.
In May 2019, the city agreed to settle a 2-year-old federal civil rights lawsuit against Pessoa and DeMelo for $225,000, to Carlos Roldan who suffered a severe broken leg after being taken into custody by Pessoa.
Pessoa is also named in a long list of defendants in the $34 million deadly force lawsuit filed last year in federal court on behalf of the family of 19-year-old Larry Ruiz-Barreto, who was shot five times and killed by Fall River police officer Nicholas Hoar in the Fall River Industrial Park in November 2017.
Pessoa is alleged to have assaulted family members at Charlton Hospital where Ruiz-Barreto was pronounced dead.
He is due back in Bristol County Superior Court regarding his pending criminal case on Feb. 1.
Jo C. Goode may be reached at email@example.com. Support local journalism and subscribe to The Herald News today!
This article originally appeared on The Herald News: Fall River police officer Michael Pessoa is fired from the force