FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — On Feb. 17, a confidential informant contacted the Fall River Police Department with an accusation that has since sent the seaside city into turmoil: Det. Joshua Robillard is “giving drugs to an informant.”
Fast-forward five months and law enforcement has concluded there isn’t enough evidence to file any criminal charges against Robillard, in large part because the informant stopped cooperating with investigators, according to an internal investigation released Monday.
But the report nonetheless showed the officer for years stashed an alarming amount of illegal drugs inside his desk and safes instead of documenting and submitting them into the station’s evidence locker.
Robillard and another officer are now serving suspensions, and the district attorney estimates at least a dozen drug cases could get tossed out as a result. Defense attorneys expect the number will grow.
In one of the safes, the drugs included enough fentanyl “to kill nearly two-thousand individuals,” the report indicated.
“I find that the presence of the significant quantity of drugs, particularly with no case nexus, to be very troubling,” wrote former Fall River Police Chief John Souza, who the city hired to run the internal investigation.
On Feb. 26, investigators conducted an unannounced search of Robillard’s desk and found a collection of illegal drugs, including oxycodone, amphetamines, crack cocaine and fentanyl.
Separate from his desk, investigators discovered three locked safes inside his cubicle that “contained numerous amount of drugs,” according to the report, which ranged from illegal steroids and prescription pills to what the federal government classifies as Schedule 1 drugs, such as heroin.
Inside the first safe, described as “the white safe,” police found 78 bags of heroin without any documentation, along with more than a dozen bags of marijuana and and various bags of crack cocaine.
The safe also contained several packages of drugs that were documented, but never submitted into the station’s drug locker — as required by policy — including dozens more bags of heroin, along with crack cocaine and 3.7 grams of fentanyl.
“It should be be noted that two milligrams of fentanyl can be a lethal dose,” Souza wrote. “Therefore, the amount of fentanyl located in a safe possessed by Robillard was enough to kill nearly two thousand individuals.”
In the second safe, dubbed “the black safe,” investigators found 129 bags of heroin, along with oxycodone, crack cocaine and clonazepam among other drugs “that are illegal to possess without a prescription.”
In the third safe, described as “the blue safe,” police found 46 bags of heroin, along with oxycodone pills, cocaine and crack cocaine without any documented affiliation with any known cases or investigations. Another 35 bags of heroin were tied to cases with drug slips attached from “controlled buys,” but they had not been submitted to evidence.
“In one other instance, there was a case number on a drug slip and upon further review it was determined that although a police report was done, it was never submitted for prosecution,” according to the report. (A fourth safe was also searched, but investigators determined it irrelevant to Robillard’s investigation.)
In a wide-ranging interview with Souza, Robillard admitted to storing the undocumented drugs in the white safe. He told investigators that’s the “way he was taught” to handle drug evidence inside the vaunted “vice and intelligence unit,” although he refused to disclose who taught him, saying only it was done by “everyone affiliated with the unit that had years on prior to me,” according to the report.
Robillard also said a lot of the white-safe drugs were confiscated from people who later didn’t get charged with a criminal offense, meaning the narcotics weren’t needed for prosecution. A lot of the narcotics came from controlled buys, he explained, a commonly used investigative process in which an undercover officer or drug informant purchases narcotics from a suspected drug dealer.
The drugs are often used later as evidence to secure a search warrant from a judge, but either way they’re supposed to be documented and stored in the event they’re needed during future prosecution. Robillard even told investigators he would often put up his own money for the controlled buys, describing himself as a “company man,” which did not sit well with the former police chief.
“If the buy did not turn out to advance his case he would throw the drugs into the safe and take the loss of his own money,” Souza wrote. “Under no circumstances should a detective be utilizing his or her own money for a controlled buy which by their nature are planned in advance with time to secure the money required in accord with policy.”
For the other two drug-filled safes, Robillard’s answers became less clear, as the detective claimed he didn’t know who owned them — even though they were found inside his cubicle and he had the keys.
“Robillard stated the black safe, as well as the blue safe … were ‘left at my desk with the keys in them,'” according to the report. “He did not make any inquiry of his vice division colleagues as to the ownership of the safe, and stated that he ‘didn’t want to bother them.'”
Souza called Robillard’s explanation “incredulous,” and said the officer admitted to knowing that it was a violation to keep drugs that were found unexpectedly under any circumstance.
“When asked the obvious question of why he would do this, he stated that he ‘didn’t want to bother’ his colleagues,” wrote Souza, adding that he had difficulty concluding Robillard’s “responses to this inquiry were truthful.”
“The responses regarding the discovery of both the black and blue safes simply defy logic,” he wrote.
In all, Souza concluded there was “just cause” for 18 violations of the department’s rules, regulations, policies and procedures. And he recommended that Robillard be suspended and retrained as a result of those findings.
As Target 12 first reported, Fall River Police Chief Jeffrey Cardoza followed the recommendation, suspending Robillard for nearly a month without pay. He also suspended a second former member of the vice unit, Luis Duarte, who had left the unit and been promoted to sergeant before Souza’s investigation took place.
“Detective Robillard will not — as long as I am the chief of police here — will not ever be in an investigative assignment,” Cardoza said last week.
In addition to revealing the unaccounted-for drugs tied to Robillard, Souza’s internal investigation also shed new light on the original complaint filed by the informant.
In February, the first informant told police Robillard had been giving drugs to a “dope-sick” second informant in exchange for information on city drug dealers. More specifically, the first informant accused Robillard of giving heroin and Xanax — both illegal substances — to the second informant on three different occasions.
During one of those alleged occasions, the first informant said Robillard told the second informant he was on a day off, but would go to the station to get drugs. And the first informant said Robillard delivered the drugs around 9:30 a.m.
Police ran an initial probe into the claims and quickly confirmed Robillard was off that day and that he entered the police station around 9:16 a.m. on the day in question. The potentially corroborating evidence spurred Cardoza to follow protocol and immediately notify the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office — which subsequently investigated the claims along with the Mass. State Police, according to the report.
The results of that investigation weren’t included in the local report released Monday, but Souza noted that “the criminal investigation proved to be futile by the failure of [the informant] to cooperate further with the investigators that had been assigned to conduct the criminal investigation.”
“It was agreed that the failure of [the first informant] and particularly [the second informant] to cooperate with police investigators made a criminal inquiry into the allegations … impossible,” wrote investigators.
Despite the first informant’s change of heart, however, Souza still investigated the claims. And while he ultimately concluded “there is no evidence that would support even a minimal finding of just cause that Robillard provided drugs to anyone,” investigators did highlight some of their more dubious findings.
For example, police found a series of “questionable text messages” on Robillard’s phone, which was seized as part of the investigation. In one message, the second informant texted Robillard: “U got dope on deck instead. Swear 2 god ill never tell.” Robillard didn’t respond, according to the report.
In another, the second informant texted: “Hoping that you’ll go to work today and surprise me with a gift… Hint hint.” Robillard responded that he was not available on that day.
“Did you get my b-day present baby daddy,” wrote the second informant in a third message.
“No lol,” Robillard responded. “At the house with the kids.”
In the final text message to Robillard cited in the report, the second informant wrote “Ima call the station.” It was delivered on March 3, after Robillard’s phone had been seized.
The report cites that someone tied to the investigation, whose name was redacted by police, “believed that Robillard deleted responses back to [the second informant], and he further inferred that the conversations taking place were in regard to Robillard delivering drugs.”
Robillard was interviewed about the text-chain, and he pushed back on the idea that he provided any drugs, saying the informant would “say outlandish things.” He also said, “CI’s say a bunch of things,” according to the report, and that the “truth needs to often be sorted out.”
Peter Pasciucco, a Boston-based attorney representing Robillard, argued the internal investigation proved his client was innocent.
“Let me be clear: Josh was absolved of any criminal liability and the investigation confirmed that he has served the city honestly and ethically,” he told Target 12 last week.
Souza mostly agreed, saying that while the texts could be interpreted as the second informant asking for drugs, “there is no indication that Robillard ever responded that he would provide drugs.”
As for Robillard showing up to the station on his day off? Police said they couldn’t figure out how long he stuck around, and Robillard told Souza he often came into the building on his days off “to get some work done.”
As part of the broader investigation, police also interviewed a second Fall River officer who was present during one of the three times Robillard was alleged to have given drugs to the second informant.
The officer confirmed he was there when Robillard met with the informant, but he told investigators he witnessed no exchange of anything between the two.
According to the report, “when asked if he had any knowledge of any detective providing an informant with drugs, he thought for a moment and then clearly stated, ‘that would be insane.'”
Tim White contributed to this report.