Fall River Police Chief Jeffrey Cardoza on leave from department; will retire in March

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FALL RIVER — Police Chief Jeffrey Cardoza will retire from the beleaguered Fall River Police Department effective March and is currently out on medical leave, confirmed Mayor Paul Coogan on Tuesday.

Cardoza, 54, was named police chief in June 2020 after a long career in the city police department, including 12 years leading the major crimes unit as police captain and attending the FBI National Academy before being tapped for the job by Coogan.

His departure from the department was effective Monday, said Coogan.

Senior police Captain Paul Gauvin will be sworn in tonight as interim chief until Cardoza’s retirement.

“Chief Jeffrey Cardoza has acted admirably over the last year and a half as Chief of Police. His leadership made significant positive changes to the force, while overseeing the Department’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and several other unexpected roadblocks,” said Coogan in a statement.

“On behalf of the city, I thank him for his years of service to the Police Department and to our residents. While we are sad to see his departure, he has left the Fall River Police Department in a better place and we look forward to working with the acting chief to continue the progress he has made,” according to the statement.

Fall River Police Chief Jeffrey Cardoza and Mayor Paul Coogan held a press conference early Tuesday night after three people were shot, two of them fatally, near Griffin Park.
Fall River Police Chief Jeffrey Cardoza and Mayor Paul Coogan held a press conference early Tuesday night after three people were shot, two of them fatally, near Griffin Park.

City Council Vice President Pam Lebeau, who has been a champion of local public safety, declined to comment on Cardoza’s departure, saying she only has minimal information at this time.

City Councilor Linda Pereira called Cardoza’s leaving "sad."

"My heart breaks, I think he was a wonderful chief, but your health takes precedence," said Pereira.

Ups and downs as chief

Cardoza, a Fall River native, whose career in city law enforcement spanned more than three decades of service in the department, issued a brief statement.

“It has truly been an honor to serve the people of Fall River for the past 31 years. I held many roles in the FRPD and I am proud of what I accomplished alongside so many dedicated colleagues,” said Cardoza.

More: A Fall River man was killed in a police shooting. Here's what we know about him.

Appointed chief in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cardoza was barely on the job as when protests broke out around the nation over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Cardoza was hailed for his handling of Black Lives Matter protests in the city, with the chief meeting with organizers and protesters and accompanying them on marches.

“He was right there, he was right on the front lines,” said Coogan, who accompanied Cardoza to a majority of the protests.

Cardoza had acknowledged that the culture at the Fall River police department needed change, and reorganized the administrative staff. The chief stressed community policing and community outreach.

More: Fall River police chief resigns amid drinking allegations

But since taking the position as chief, Cardoza’s tenure had been marked by a myriad of controversies, some holdovers from past police administrations.

The department is facing multiple civil rights lawsuits filed against police officers for use of excessive force, including the police officer shooting in the Industrial Park by Patrolman Nicholas Hoar that left a 19-year-old New Bedford man shot and killed in 2017. The family of the dead man has filed a $34 million lawsuit against the city.

Hoar is also under an FBI investigation for alleged brutality against a prisoner in FRPD custody.

More: Fall River police chief resigns amid drinking allegations

The criminal case of Patrolman Michael Pessoa continues to wind its way through the court system after his indictment in 2019 for allegedly beating several suspects in separate incidents.

Cardoza was the captain of major crimes at the time and conducted the investigation against Pessoa that led to his indictment by a grand jury. The city has already paid out about a quarter-million in settlements in cases involving Pessoa, with more pending.

More: What could happen to a Fall River cop who filed false reports to protect a fellow officer

Cardoza and his team worked closely with residents and families after a high-profile double murder in a Corky Row park that claimed the life of a 14-year-old teenager last spring, as well after the murder of a popular convenience store owner during a robbery in early November.

The police chief came under Fall River fire after a police detective was found to have improperly stored drug evidence at his desk. After Cardoza called for an outside investigation conducted by retired FRPD Chief John Souza, the detective was given a one-month unpaid suspension and ordered not to be involved in future investigations.

Less than two weeks ago, while investigating a domestic complaint, officers shot and killed 30-year-old Anthony Harden in his Melville Street apartment.

More: A Fall River man was killed in a police shooting. Here's what we know about him.

The police officer shooting is currently under investigation by the Bristol County District Attorney’s office and the Massachusetts State Police. The identities of the two police officers involved have not been identified and Harden’s family has been vocal about demanding answers from law enforcement.

More: Two Fall River detectives booted from vice unit and suspended without pay

Harden had been under home confinement pending a trial this month for a 3-hour stand-off with police in 2019 involving his 5-month-old infant and a small sword. District Attorney Tom Quinn indicated that a knife was present during Harden’s altercation with police.

Last week the police department announced domestic assault charges filed against a patrol officer who was later identified in court records as Patrolman Bryan Custadio.

What’s next for police department leadership

“I’m not ruling out anything,” said Coogan. “I think we have an opportunity here to have a trial run (with Gauvin). He stepped up, let’s try to get some stability there then decide the best course of action.”

Coogan didn’t answer directly whether he would consider going outside the police department staff to fill the chief’s position.

By appointing Gauvin, Coogan sidestepped the department’s two deputy chiefs.

Deputy Chief of Administration Charles Cullen’s last day on the job is Jan. 1. He’ll be retiring officially in two years after using up all the comp time he’s accrued.

Cullen was briefly interim chief in March 2020 after then Police Chief Albert Dupere resigned amid allegations he and subordinate officers were drinking in a local pub during working hours.

Under an odd clause in Dupere’s chief’s contract signed by former mayor Jasiel Correia II, Dupere was allowed to return to his position as deputy chief under Cardoza.

This article originally appeared on The Herald News: Police Chief Jeffrey Cardoza to depart from troubled department

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