FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) – An external review of alarming behavior inside the Fall River Police Department, including allegations of giving illegal narcotics to an informant and an unexplained disappearance of years-worth of drug records, has ended with recommendations that no action be taken.
Special assistant attorney William Connolly and retired Mass. State Police Lt. Det. Kevin O’Neil issued a nine-page report last week following a nearly yearlong probe into allegations of police mishandling drug evidence over multiple years.
The prosecutor and retired trooper ultimately concluded they couldn’t find any evidence that would warrant criminal charges and suggested nobody would find any otherwise.
“We have concluded insufficient evidence to support criminal charges of any kind related to these matters,” Connolly and O’Neil wrote in the Feb. 24 report. “We have also concluded that any further investigation into these matters is unlikely to uncover evidence that would warrant criminal prosecution.”
The two men were tapped by the Bristol County District Attorney in April 2022 to examine four allegations against the embattled police department, which has been a hotbed of controversy in recent years. The DA’s office paid $27,000 for the report, according to a spokesperson.
The reviewed allegations included a 2021 claim that former Vice Unit detective Joshua Robillard gave out illegal drugs – including heroin and Xanax – to a confidential informant in exchange for information.
As Target 12 first reported in August 2021, Robillard was subsequently discovered to be stashing an alarming amount of illegal drugs inside his desk and safes instead of documenting them into the station’s evidence locker. Inside one of the safes was enough fentanyl “to kill nearly two-thousand individuals,” according to an internal investigation done at the time.
Connolly and O’Neil ultimately agreed with a prior criminal investigation and administration review that Robillard violated departmental policy — but his behavior didn’t warrant any criminal action.
The conclusion was reached in large part because the informants involved at the time stopped cooperating with law enforcement. One of them later denied ever receiving any illegal drugs.
“We believe it was appropriate for the [department] to close its criminal investigations into [the informant’s] allegations and we do not believe that any further investigation is appropriate at this time,” Connolly and O’Neil concluded.
After the Robillard scandal, in March 2022, then-interim Police Chief Paul Gauvin sent a troubling letter to the district attorney saying the department had inexplicably lost two years of logs the department is supposed to keep showing whenever detectives conduct undercover purchases of illegal drugs – a commonly used police tactic known as “controlled buys.”
The log is an important piece of evidence that prosecutors use in court when trying to prove offenders guilty, and it was supposed to be kept under lock and key at the department.
“This loss of evidence is inexcusable and an embarrassment to the Fall River Police Department,” Gauvin wrote at the time.
According to Connolly’s and O’Neil’s report, the logbooks were tracked at the time by Det. Sgt. William Falandys, who would return them for safekeeping to Lt. Gregory Wiley — the Vice Unit commander between 2018 until March 2021.
The report suggests the logs were locked in a filing cabinet, but that wasn’t the case in May 2021 when Captain David Murphy discovered them gone at the same time he was preparing to send old paperwork to the shredder.
“Captain Murphy was directed to search in and around the filing cabinets to ensure the books did not fall behind or between the canbinets and to conduct a search of the 23 boxes Murphy had filled with old papers and files before taping them up for deliver to a shredding truck,” the investigators wrote.
Murphy reportedly reported the discovery through his “direct chain of command.” His supervisor wasn’t identified in the report, but the Vice Unit reports to the department’s major crimes division — where Gauvin was commander at the time.
Murphy also never reached out to Wiley or Falandys to see if they had put the logs elsewhere, according to the report. And Connolly and O’Neil never got to the bottom of it, saying only “it’s unclear to us why the former vice commander and vice sergeant were not immediately notified of the missing logbooks and asked whether they had any information on the whereabouts of the missing logbooks.”
The prosecutor and retired trooper never identified who was responsible for the missing logbooks and “were unable to conclude whether they were removed intentionally or by accident,” according to the report. They dismissed the possibility that any future investigation might come up with different results.
“We have also concluded that further investigation is unlikely to uncover new information that would identify how or why the logbooks went missing,” they wrote.
The missing logbooks and mishandled drug evidence has resulted in little discipline at the Fall River Police Department outside of a monthlong suspension for Robillard, who was subsequently transferred out of the Vice Unit to the department’s uniformed division.
The report also absolved Robillard of being responsible for the missing logs, saying in part his practice of storing drug evidence at his desk was “inconsistent with someone attempting to cover up his conduct.”
Nonetheless, the haphazard behavior has created a prosecutorial headache for the district attorney’s office, which had to send out dozens of letters to defense attorneys explaining some of the evidence gathered against their clients might be tainted.
The past allegations also raised the ire of many defense attorneys – including the Massachusetts public defenders office, which blasted District Attorney Quinn in August 2021. In their view, the county’s top prosecutor largely downplayed the legal implications tied to Robillard’s behavior.
“That is completely unacceptable, and it disregards the fact that an untold number of people could be sitting behind bars with tainted convictions,” Randy Gioia, then-deputy chief counsel at the Committee for Public Counsel Services, said at the time.
The issues examined by Connolly and O’Neil are also only a small part of broader controversy plaguing the Fall River Police Department, which has had three police chiefs in the past three years.
Former Police Chief Albert Dupere stepped down in 2020 after an undercover Target 12 investigation showed he – along with other high-ranking officers – would routinely leave work early to drink at a local bar for hours before getting behind the wheel of a city-issued vehicle.
Dupere was replaced by Jeffrey Cardoza, who quickly stepped down the next year amid a myriad of controversy – mostly left over from prior administrations. Gauvin has since filled the role, which has included overseeing a tumultuous squad that’s regularly the subject of civil rights lawsuits mostly tied to allegations of beating suspects and falsifying police reports.
In November, federal law enforcement arrested officer Nicholas Hoar in connection with allegations that he beat up a suspect in custody and then lied about it in police reports. Hoar is also named in a civil rights lawsuit centered around former officer Michael Pessoa and several other officers accused of similar behavior. Both cases are pending.
In December, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Police arrested officer Aaron Souza following a fight at Foxwoods Resort Casino. He was charged with two misdemeanor counts of third-degree assault and a court spokesperson said last month his next court date is scheduled for Friday in Connecticut.
Still, on the issue of tracking drug records inside the department, Connolly and O’Neil expressed some optimism that things could get better. They highlighted the department’s decision to update its systems to maintain buy logs electronically on a shared drive and creating a more established record of tracking informants.
“The [department] has since amended their policies to require that Vice Unit detectives prepare tracking sheets for each informant, which are then maintained by the Vice Commander,” the men wrote in their report. “This policy is designed to improve the documentation of confidential informants and their performance in past investigations.”
Eli Sherman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.