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Attorney: Fall River cop with drugs in desk served ‘honestly and ethically’

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Fall River police detective disciplined for improperly storing drug evidence in his desk has been suspended for nearly a month without pay, as his attorney is pushing back on the idea that he did anything nefarious.

Peter Pasciucco, a Boston-based attorney representing Officer Joshua Robillard, confirmed Thursday his client has been suspended for 25 days without pay, arguing he only accepted the suspension “to put a minor administrative violation behind him and continue his career.”

“Let me be clear: Josh was absolved of any criminal liability and the investigation confirmed that he has served the city honestly and ethically,” Pasciucco wrote in an email. Target 12 has requested an interview with Robillard, who formerly served eight years with the department’s Vice and Intelligence Unit.

The attorney described Robillard as a respected veteran of the department that’s well-liked by his colleagues, including Police Chief Jeffrey Cardoza, who suspended the detective for storing an undisclosed amount of confiscated drugs inside his desk instead of documenting and submitting them into an evidence locker.

“We’re not talking about one small bag,” Cardoza said earlier this week when Target 12 first reported about the controversy. “We’re talking about multiple, multiple packages.”

The investigation into Robillard began in February after a tip surfaced that the detective was giving confiscated drugs to confidential informants in exchange for information on drug dealers. Cardoza said both the Bristol County District Attorney General’s office and Mass. State Police examined the allegation and concluded the claim was unfounded. Pasciucco highlighted that point in an email, saying it established “what we knew all along.”

“The accusation that Josh provided drugs to an informant was 100% fabricated,” Pasciucco said in an email.

But a subsequent internal investigation — headed by former Fall River Police Chief Jonathan Souza — led the discovery of the seized narcotics inside Robillard’s desk, which included some tagged by Sgt. Luis Duarte, who is also being disciplined. (The terms of Duarte’s discipline have not yet been disclosed.)

And the undocumented drug evidence is already creating a stir in the legal community, as Fall River sees scores of drug cases each month — often times involving the department’s vice unit. The Bristol County District Attorney’s office estimates the controversy could affect at least a dozen open drug cases; several defense attorneys interviewed by Target 12 expect the number will grow.

Mark Booker, a defense lawyer with at least one case involving the vice unit, has already filed a public records request with the Fall River Police Department, seeking several documents related to Robillard, the drug squad and the department’s policies and procedures.

“Based on the fine reporting at Channel 12, it seemed to me that some of the items identified in my public records request warranted follow-up,” Booker said.

Benjamin Evans of the Fall River Public Defender Division criticized the Bristol County District Attorney’s office and the Fall River Police Department, noting that Robillard’s mishandling of drug evidence is indicative of bigger problems. Evans referenced another recent case of alleged police misconduct involving officer Michael Pessoa, who was indicted by a grand jury on charges of beating suspects and falsifying police reports in 2019.

“The misconduct that’s alleged against Robillard is part of a continuing pattern that includes Officer Michael Pessoa, along with all the people who covered for him,” Evans said. “It’s an ongoing pattern of Fall River police apparently disregarding the law, rules and regulations, and it puts their creditability into question.”

It remains unclear what type of legal fallout will ultimately come of the improper handling of drug evidence. But both the Bristol County DA’s office and Pasciucco have pushed back on any notion that it should be likened to the Annie Dookhan and Sonja Farak scandals, involving Massachusetts chemists convicted of tampering with drug evidence. Thousands of drug cases were thrown out as a result of their misconduct.

“To compare his situation to the state’s drug lab scandal is wholly inaccurate and reckless,” Pasciucco.

The Boston attorney said the suspension is longer than Robillard would have liked, but that he took “full responsibility for the violation.” Pasciucco also lauded Cardoza for taking the matter seriously, but not going too far with the discipline.

“I commend him for not overreacting and terminating my client,” he said. “In a time when the police are under great scrutiny, termination would have been the easy way out but it was not justified in these circumstances.”

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

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.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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