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Over 50 cases now under scrutiny due to drugs found in Fall River cop’s desk

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FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) – The number of criminal cases affected by the Fall River detective who improperly stored illegal drugs inside his desk has grown from a dozen to more than 50, according to the county’s top prosecutor.

Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn III said Tuesday his office started sending letters to defense attorneys last month in the wake of an internal investigation by the Fall River Police Department. The investigation found then-Det. Joshua Robillard for years stashed an alarming amount of heroin, cocaine, fentanyl and other opioids inside his desk and safes instead of documenting and submitting them into the station’s evidence locker.

“We’re trying to be fair and straight about this,” Quinn said during a wide-ranging interview with Target 12 on Tuesday.

The district attorney — who after his own review decided earlier this year not to charge Robillard with any criminal wrongdoing — isn’t certain whether the now-suspended officer’s actions will result in any drug cases getting tossed out. Quinn pointed out the decision of whether to even allow the underlying internal report into legal proceedings as evidence will be up to a judge.

And he’s not discounting the possibility of still calling Robillard as a witness in certain ongoing drug cases, saying the officer’s decision to improperly store undocumented narcotics inside his desk may have nothing to do with some of them.

“Our position at this point is we are proceeding with the prosecution with these cases and we’ll address it one by one as the issues come up in court,” he said.

The challenge for Quinn and his team of prosecutors will be convincing the court that there’s no connection between the drugs in Robillard’s possession and the drug defendants currently facing charges, especially because such a large portion of the discovered narcotics didn’t have any documentation.

In a report detailing the internal investigation, former Fall River Police Chief John Souza said they found two drug-filled safes inside Robillard’s cubicle, and the officer claimed he didn’t know who owned them — even though he had the keys.

Robillard also told Souza he would regularly put up his own money rather than use department funds for so-called controlled buys, a commonly used investigative tactic that requires an undercover officer or drug informant to purchase narcotics from suspected drug dealers.

The drugs are often used later to secure search warrants, but Souza explained that detectives are never supposed to use their own money because the whole process needs to be closely documented and under control.

“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.”

Quinn said his office will continue to review open cases in both Fall River district and superior courts to determine whether any more defendants should be notified about Robillard, adding he doesn’t think there are too many more out there. His office isn’t currently looking into closed drug cases tied to Robillard that have already been adjudicated.

None of Robillard’s cases have been thrown out yet, but Quinn warned that the process of reviewing the report and arguing its relevance in court could take a long time. While not certain any cases would be tossed, Quinn said it would be a let-down if that happens.

“Hypothetically, because we haven’t gotten to that point, yes – that would be frustrating,” he said. “But our job is to deal with the issues that come before us. Many of them are not pleasant. We want to be fair to the parties involved, fair to the defendants, fair to the witnesses. And that’s what we’re going to do.”  

This isn’t the first time the district attorney’s office has been challenged by police misconduct in the Fall River Police Department. Veteran police officer Michael Pessoa was indicted in 2019 and and accused of using excessive force against multiple people. Multiple other officers were offered immunity in exchange for testifying against Pessoa.

As a result of that case, Quinn said his office likewise had to send out similar letters notifying defense attorneys with cases involving Pessoa, although he estimated it was fewer than the 50 sent out because of Robillard.

Despite the recent instances of police misconduct, Quinn said he remains confident in the criminal investigations coming out of the Fall River Police Department.

“I don’t have any concerns,” Quinn said. “In any walk of life, in any profession, there are issues with individuals. Like anybody, those issues have to be dealt with fairly. That’s what we have done and will continue to do.”

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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