FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — A veteran member of the Fall River Police Department faced a judge Thursday for allegedly abusing his authority and using “excessive and unnecessary force” while on duty.
A Bristol County Grand Jury handed up an indictment charging Officer Michael Pessoa on several counts including aggravated assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, according to the office of Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn III.
Pessoa, 40, is accused of using excessive force on four separate occasions in 2014, 2018, and twice in 2019, the DA’s office said, and at least three of the people involved suffered injuries that required trips to the hospital.
The 17-year veteran of the Fall River Police Department is also charged with violating arrestees’ civil rights and filing false police reports, according to the DA’s office.
Pessoa pleaded not guilty Thursday afternoon to one count of aggravated assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, one count of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, two counts of assault and battery, four counts of civil rights violation with bodily injury, three counts of intimidation of a witness (misleading), three counts of filing a false report by a public officer, and one count of malicious destruction of property.
“We rely on the police to serve and protect us. These allegations undermine people’s confidence in law enforcement,” Quinn said outside court.
Pessoa’s bail was set at $50,000 with surety and he was ordered to turn over all police credentials and property and to have no contact with his alleged victims.
Pessoa was silent as he left Fall River Superior Court. His attorney Frank Camera said his client denies the allegations.
“Certainly something we’re going to see to its end. We’re going to see it through trial,” Camera said. “The family’s upset. Everybody’s upset and shocked by these allegations.”
In light of the charges, the police department suspended Pessoa without pay. Officials said he had been on paid administrative leave since April 23.
According to court records, the city paid out $225,000 to a Fall River man earlier this year to settle a claim that Pessoa fractured his leg in October 2014. The complaint states Pessoa and another officer arrested the man’s sister over a fight with a neighbor and when the man questioned their actions, Pessoa reportedly brought the man to the ground and kicked him repeatedly as the second officer watched.
Camera refuted this, saying Pessoa never used excessive force.
“He acted appropriately with every interaction he had with everybody and that will come to fruition once we tried the case and all the facts made known,” he said.
The complaint also alleges that both officers gave false explanations of the cause of the man’s injury when they later filed reports about the incident. It says Pessoa “claimed in his police report that [the man] fractured his leg either because he landed awkwardly or because his knee hit a rock.”
Pessoa is due back in court August 14 for a pretrial hearing.