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Fall River lawyer accuses Bristol County DA of retaliation after Target 12 report

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FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) – A Fall River defense attorney on Wednesday accused the Bristol County District Attorney’s office of going out of its way to punish one of her clients because of comments she made in a Target 12 investigation examining police misconduct in the city.

Attorney Sarah Emery told a Fall River District Court judge the district attorney’s office filed a motion to revive a previously closed case of operating under the influence against one of her clients after learning she publicly discussed grand jury testimony that called into question the creditability of the arresting officer, William Silvia.

“This was in retaliation to a news story,” Emery told Judge Cynthia Brackett during the hearing.

Brackett had already dismissed the drunk driving case on Sept. 7 after the district attorney’s office failed to provide discovery material related to Silvia and his involvement in a separate case.

Specifically, Emery had repeatedly requested video evidence referenced in grand jury testimony tied to the investigation into Fall River Police Officer Michael Pessoa, who has been charged with 15 criminal offenses, including falsifying police reports and assaulting suspects.

One of the suspects he allegedly beat was a local resident arrested by Pessoa and Silvia in 2018. A year later, Fall River Police Chief Jeffrey Cardoza testified to a grand jury that video he reviewed of the arrest did not match a report written by Silvia, which Emery has argued called into question whether the police officer is credible.

Attorney Sarah Emery

After Brackett tossed out the drunk driving case on Sept. 7, the case remained shut until Target 12 reached out to Cardoza last month for comment about his grand jury testimony. On Nov. 18 – more than 70 days after the case was dismissed and just days before Target 12’s report – the district attorney’s office filed a motion seeking to reinstate the drunk driving case against Emery’s client.

“It was not based on merits of the case,” Emery argued in court. “It was in response to a news story on Channel 12.”

First Assistant District Attorney Patrick Bomberg did not respond to Emery’s accusations that the move was retaliatory, but instead argued the district attorney’s office was tied up with a murder trial at the time Emery made the request for discovery material, adding that his office was ultimately willing to provide the requested information under seal.

“I’m not against providing discovery,” Bomberg said Wednesday. “It’s the process of getting there.”

Bomberg argued the material did not necessarily require disclosure because it was from an unrelated case – against Pessoa – and not directly linked to Emery’s client, which she disputed. The assistant district attorney also used the Wednesday hearing to criticize Emery for discussing information from a grand jury proceeding, which are typically kept secret with strict rules against disclosure.

“Counsel has disseminated grand jury materials outside of people who are authorized to obtain them,” he said.

The argument fell short with Judge Brackett, however, as she stopped Bomberg’s argument to say, “that does not interest me in terms of this motion.”

Later in the hearing, Bomberg returned to the topic, asking again for the judge to weigh in on the disclosure.

“Can the court address the grand jury minutes?” Bomberg said.

Emery pushed back, arguing she was released from a protective order surrounding the grand jury material on Sept. 29, “without objection from the Commonwealth,” allowing her to discuss it publicly.

After hearing arguments from both sides, Judge Brackett took the matter under consideration, and will release a decision at a later date.

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter at 12 News, and the host of Newsmakers. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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