FALL RIVER — The Fall River Police Department is dealing with another hit to its tarnished reputation after two years' worth of controlled-buy logs used for drug case investigations have been reported missing.
Last year, an internal investigation at the Fall River Police Department found that one of its detectives had illegally stashed undocumented drug evidence in three safes at his work station.
This time, after a request for discovery from the Bristol County District Attorney’s office to the FRPD related to pending drug cases, controlled-buy logs from 2019 and 2020 were reported missing from the city police department.
The controlled-buy logs were used to record detectives' use of department cash to purchase drugs, either undercover or through informants, as part of drug case investigations.
Acting Fall River Police Chief Paul Gauvin, in a letter dated March 23, reported the missing logs to Bristol County District Attorney Tom Quinn III's office.
“The discovery request is unavailable. Unfortunately, the controlled Buy logs for 2019 and 2020 are currently missing and likely have been missing since May of 2021,” wrote Gauvin.
In a controlled “buy” of illicit drugs, usually either an undercover law enforcement officer or a participating informant is involved in the purchase of illegal substances from a suspected drug dealer during the course of an investigation.
DA's office hires investigators
There are now two investigations into the missing buy logs: one by the DA’s office and an internal FRPD investigation.
“Based on new information that has come to light during this ongoing investigation, we have sworn in a Special Assistant District Attorney and are also bringing in a retired state police lieutenant to further investigate this matter,” said Bristol County District Attorney spokesman Gregg Miliote, in an email after an inquiry regarding Gauvin’s letter from The Herald News. "The Special Assistant District Attorney and the retired State Police lieutenant both have specific expertise in this field, and they will solely focus on this investigation. Our office is taking this matter very seriously."
Gauvin confirmed there is also an internal investigation by the FRPD into the missing logs.
Former vice detectives disciplined for mishandled drug evidence
Last year, Patrolman Joshua Robillard and Sgt. Luis Duarte were removed from their detective assignments from the department’s Vice and Intelligence Unit and suspended without pay after an internal investigation found large amounts of street drugs at Robillard’s desk that should have been recorded in the department’s evidence locker.
The investigation into Robillard’s issue with the drug evidence began in February 2021 after what was later determined to be a bogus tip alleging that then-Detective Robillard was providing drugs to a confidential informer in exchange for information about local drug dealers.
How many drug cases are affected?
Regarding how many Fall River drug cases could be affected by this discovery, Miliote said it's too early to tell.
He said in the email that each case is going to have to be looked at individually, but that the DA’s office has been actively notifying defense lawyers about the new information regarding the missing logs.
It was a defense attorney who supplied The Herald News with a copy of Gauvin’s letter to the district attorney’s office but asked not to be identified.
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Miliote said there are likely drug cases that will be able to move forward, or defense attorneys may request continuances for their clients pending the DA’s completed investigation. In the latter case, the DA’s office could oppose continuances if a case is strong, or in some instances they could request dismissals of some cases.
Acting chief: 'I welcome any assistance'
“It’s embarrassing to the department to have to make these disclosures. But in fairness, this is exactly the situation we have. I have already ordered a full, comprehensive investigation into the matter. We’ve already changed the policy,” said Gauvin.
The police department is now tracking information for controlled buys electronically in a shared internet system, and it has shored up language in police policy on logging such information.
“We have gotten away from written books and logs. Going forward, we’ve changed these issues and ordered an investigation. At this point, I don’t have any other comment until we get the results of the investigation,” Gauvin said.
The FRPD is cooperating fully with the DA’s separate investigation with the special assistant district attorney and the retired state police investigator, Gauvin said.
“We made this disclosure to the district attorney, and I do welcome any assistance he can give with the investigation,” Gauvin said.
Mayor Paul Coogan has said Gauvin, the interim police chief, will likely be the successor to former Police Chief Jeffrey Cardoza, who retired in early March.
Gauvin said he wants to take the department beyond the controversies.
“Unfortunately, we have to go through this. So, let’s get the investigation done and then go from there,” said Gauvin.
Department plagued by controversial incidents
The missing controlled-buy logs and the mishandled drug evidence are not the only controversies the Fall River Police Department has found itself in the last few years.
Now terminated patrol officer Michael Pessoa was indicted on more than a dozen counts of police brutality and lying on police reports to allegedly cover his tracks for excessive force incidents in June 2019. He is expected to go to trial in October.
Related to Pessoa, the city has paid out thousands of dollars in lawsuit settlements, and a $34 million lawsuit is pending for the shooting death of 19-year-old Larry Ruiz-Barreto in the Industrial Park in 2017 by patrol officer Nicholas Hoar. He was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Bristol County District Attorney's office four months later.
The same officer is under an FBI investigation for an assault last year in the booking room at police headquarters.
In November, police officer Chelsea Campellone shot and killed 30-year-old Anthony Harden when he reportedly attempted to attack her partner, Michael Sullivan, with a steak knife while responding to a domestic complaint. Both officers have been cleared by the DA, but Harden's family is suing the DA's office for open records violations, which Quinn is requesting be dismissed. The hearing is Thursday in Suffolk Superior Court.
Patrol officer Bryan Custadio was arraigned in February on allegations of strangulation and assault with a dangerous weapon in an assault case while on duty and later destroying evidence.
Custadio, who is out on personal recognizance, was in court Tuesday, but a pre-trial conference was postponed until June.
Also, in March 2020, then-Police Chief Albert Dupere resigned from his position after being recorded on video drinking at a bar during work hours with subordinate officers on several occasions.
Jo C. Goode may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Support local journalism and subscribe to The Herald News today!
This article originally appeared on The Herald News: Fall River police, DA's office investigate lost illegal drug buy logs