FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) – Police know it around the station as “last lunch.” But the Friday tradition had little to do with food.

A group of Fall River police officers – including former Police Chief Albert Dupere – for years routinely called it quits around 2:30 p.m. on Fridays to meet up for drinks at a downtown pub.

A months-long Target 12 investigation — begun before the COVID-19 crisis — revealed the sworn lawmen regularly spent multiple hours drinking at the bar before filtering out, hopping into cars and driving away.

For some, including Dupere, that often meant getting behind the wheel of a city-issued vehicle. Fall River is currently facing a lawsuit over one officer who crashed a city car on a Friday night shortly after leaving the bar where they liked to meet.

Dupere denies he ever drank on-the-clock, but admitted his decision to drive a city vehicle after drinking was wrong. He stepped down from his position as chief in March, the day after Target 12 showed him undercover video documenting his actions. (The investigation was in its final stages as coronavirus broke out in the United States, postponing its publication.)

“It doesn’t look good and it’s not proper,” Dupere said. “You shouldn’t have even one drink and drive a city vehicle. I admit that.”

The veteran police officer nonetheless defended the afternoon drinking, claiming officers work extra hours throughout the week and shift their schedules. The extra time — along with a rule Dupere said allows officers to slide their lunch breaks to the end of the day — made the Friday drinking sessions possible, he said.

“We were on our own time, essentially,” Dupere said.

Mayor Paul Coogan, who took over from the twice-indicted former Mayor Jasiel Correia in January, reviewed Target 12 undercover video of officers arriving, drinking and leaving the bar on several occasions.

He then checked the dates and times against personnel records at the police station. There was no record of the officers or chief adjusting their times accordingly, he said. 

That spurred the mayor to inform Dupere on March 6 that his contract – set to expire later this year – wouldn’t be renewed.

“I’m worried about the message it sends for every city employee,” Coogan told Target 12 at the time. “We have to carry ourselves to a higher standard.”

When asked about the lack of records, Dupere said he could likely reconstruct his own timecard based on schedules, emails and other records, but the previous method of timekeeping was based on an honor system.

“I see the people that work for me, I know that they’re here, I see the emails, I see that they’re at their desks when I come in in the morning,” he said. “You have to trust the people you’re working with.”

Regardless, the chief opted to exercise a clause in his contract allowing him to return to the position of deputy chief, the role he held before being appointed to the top job in 2017. Coogan said he was OK with the ex-chief remaining on the force, which Dupere has served for more than three decades.

“Prior to this episode, I don’t know of any problems that he ever had,” Coogan said. “He’ll do a good job for us as a deputy chief, I’m sure.”

‘He didn’t seem impaired to me’

Target 12’s investigation discovered Dupere isn’t the only Fall River police officer facing questions.

Dupere said “last lunch” has been going on for at least a couple years, raising new questions about a separate incident that happened in February 2018 when Sgt. J.T. Hoar crashed a city-issued vehicle into parked cars on North Main Street, less than a mile away from St. James Irish Pub.

St. James is the same pub where Target 12 recorded officers – including Hoar – meeting up for “last lunch” on six Fridays during December and January. Hoar had been there just before the 2018 collision, reported at 5:46 p.m. on a Friday.

Dupere – who had been chief for about three months at the time – was adamant that the sergeant hadn’t been drinking that afternoon.

Hoar was examined by Dupere, as well as EMTs and on-duty police, but was not administered a blood-alcohol test.

“To give someone a blood-alcohol test you have to have a reasonable suspicion that they’re operating under the influence,” Dupere said. “He didn’t seem impaired to me.”

Dupere, who was first on scene at the car crash, said he had been coming from a cigar shop near the pub, which is another popular meeting place where the chief said he would sometimes drink alcohol. Hoar called Dupere immediately after the car crash.

The department subsequently launched an internal investigation. Witnesses at the bar reported Hoar was acting normally before leaving, and a bartender told investigators that Hoar declined a beer that was offered to him. 

“The bartender specifically said [Hoar] didn’t drink,” Dupere told Target 12.

The department decided to suspend Hoar for two days because “there was negligence involved,” according to Dupere. The investigators determined Hoar shouldn’t have yanked on the steering wheel and hit parked cars when reaching for containers of takeout food. An internal investigation of the crash reviewed by Target 12 showed the sergeant claimed the food was falling off the passenger seat and caused him to crash.

Hoar is part of the police department’s professional standards unit, which is supposed to “ensure the integrity of [the] department,” according to the police website. He did not respond to a request for comment.

“When you’re driving, you let the food fall on the floor,” Dupere said. “You don’t cock the wheel over and hit a parked car.”

The internal investigation has ended, but the issue hasn’t yet been resolved. Frank Stanley, a Fall River resident, was sitting in one of the vehicles Hoar hit on North Main Street.

Stanley later filed a lawsuit against the city claiming $30,530 in damages, including the cost of towing his truck after the collision, which he claims wasn’t paid for by the city, according to court documents.

Stanley declined to comment when contacted earlier this year.

‘A higher standard’

After reviewing Target 12’s undercover video earlier this year, Coogan and Dupere met multiple times. Dupere said he apologized to the mayor for his actions.

Coogan said the findings reinforced his commitment to a new policy aimed at addressing what he says is inadequate recordkeeping at the police station. He claims that policy allowed officers to bank and cash in on unused time without much oversight.

The mayor has since called for more stringent timekeeping, with records kept at Government Center rather than the police station.

Mayor Paul Coogan

“The Human Resources Department in Government Center manages everybody’s [timecards] in the city except police and fire,” he said. “Those accounts should be kept here.”

Dupere, meanwhile, said he doesn’t think it’s the last time Fall River police officers will meet up for a drink on Fridays. (The tradition had to be put on hold when the state ordered all bars closed due to the public health crisis.) But the longtime officer said he recognizes that some of the behavior needs to change, beginning with himself.

“I should be held to a higher standard,” Dupere said. “I apologize for the car. It was a lapse in judgment, and you learn from your mistakes. It’s never going to happen again and we’re going to change some policies to make sure that no one else does it.”

Coogan last month appointed Capt. Jefferey Cardoza, a veteran of the Fall River Police Department, to become the city’s new police chief.

Beyond his more than two decades of experience working in different parts of the police force, the mayor said one of Cardoza’s redeeming qualities is that he doesn’t drink alcohol.

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. 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.