FALL RIVER - The jury trial of ex-Fall River police officer Michael Pessoa, who is accused of use of excessive force, civil rights violations against three suspects and filing false police reports, is set to begin today.
Pessoa was indicted by a state grand jury in June 2019 on 15 counts of assault on four different men in separate cases. A Fall River Superior Court judge dropped charges of alleged assault and battery related to one of the men in late 2021, citing the Bristol County District Attorney's office had not met the burden of proof to a grand jury.
The 17-year veteran city patrol officer pleaded not guilty to the charges during an arraignment the same day a grand jury handed up the indictment and has been free on $5,000 cash bail since his court appearance. Pessoa was also ordered to surrender his badge and firearms at the time.
After his arraignment, Pessoa was suspended from the police department without pay and fired from the force approximately 18 months later.
Fall River-based defense attorney Frank Camera, who is representing Pessoa, has claimed publicly that the charges against Pessoa are "fabricated" and said "he acted appropriately with every interaction he had with everybody."
Camera also claimed to other news media outlets that Pessoa is the "scapegoat" of the beleaguered Fall River police department which has been embroiled in a number of controversies.
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Fall River Police Department's charges against the four alleged victims were eventually dismissed by the Bristol County District Attorney's office after Pessoa's indictment.
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Alleged victims at the heart of the case
The case against Pessoa involves three separate incidents in 2014, 2018 and 2019.
The first alleged victim, Carlos Roldan, was 49-years-old when he was arrested by Pessoa at his family home on May 6, 2014 after a call to police over an altercation between his sister and a neighbor.
According to court documents filed by the DA's office, when Roldan questioned Pessoa about his treatment of his sister, Pessoa allegedly took him to the ground. Witnesses in a previous civil deposition reportedly testified that Pessoa punched and kicked Roldan.
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After his arrest, Roldan was taken to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a fractured tibia that required surgery to implant screws and plates in his leg.
Pessoa's report indicated that Roldan had become aggressive and refused to obey commands, and continued to resist after he was taken to the ground. In a use of force report, Pessoa wrote his actions were necessary.
The charges against Pessoa regarding Roldan are aggravated assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, civil right violation, intimidating a witness and a false report by a public officer.
In April 2019 and before the grand jury indictment against Pessoa, the city settled a civil suit brought by Roldan for $225,000. Also named as a defendant in the lawsuit was a former city patrol officer, Andrew DeMelo, who quit the department right before he was set to testify against Pessoa in grand jury.
On March 21, 2019, Aliecer Rodriguez was arrested by Pessoa at the Stop and Shop on Rodman Street when he responded to a call for backup.
Rodriguez had been videotaping the arrest of his friend on his cellphone when Pessoa allegedly destroyed the cellphone and took him to the ground, causing an injury to the man's face.
Police officer William Silvia, who was on a detail at the store according to court records, wrote a report that Rodriguez had been given multiple orders by both officers before he was subdued.
Prosecutors are disputing Silvia's version.
In the case of Rodriguez, Pessoa was indicted on assault and battery, civil rights violation and malicious destruction of property.
The arrest was reportedly caught on camera.
The incident with the third alleged victim, David LaFrance, on Feb. 13, 2019, was also caught on surveillance camera.
Pessoa, DeMelo and now former police officers Thomas Roberts and Sean Aguiar had responded to a report of a fight at 554 South Main St.
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Initially LaFrance had been detained by police, but allegedly as one of the officers was removing the handcuffs after it was determined he would not be arrested, Pessoa hit him in the head, knocking him to the ground.
LaFrance was arrested and his family the following day took him to the hospital with alleged injuries.
In the case regarding LaFrance, Pessoa is charged with aggravated assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, civil rights violation, intimidation of a witness and false report by a public official.
LaFrance has a civil suit pending against the city.
Defense seeking another indictment dismissed
Camera was successful in getting the charges associated with Luke Raffa dismissed. Raffa alleged that Pessoa slammed his head into a table in the police station booking room while handcuffed in March 2019.
Raffa never testified in the grand jury, but he did speak to The Herald News a month before, telling a reporter he had been knocked unconscious and suffered injuries in the assault.
Camera filed a motion this summer to dismiss the indictment involving Rodriguez because Silvia, the officer whose police report disputed the alleged victim's account, was never called to testify in the grand jury.
The motion to dismiss the indictment is pending.
While Pessoa is the only former Fall River police officer facing criminal charges, it cost the careers of his fellow patrolmen who lied on police reports to protect their senior colleague.
During an internal investigation conducted by former Fall River Police Chief Jeffrey Cardoza when he headed up the Major Crimes unit as a captain, officers Roberts, Aguiar and DeMelo admitted to filing the false reports.
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Roberts and Aguiar were granted immunity and testified in grand jury against Pessoa. DeMelo, who did not appear before the grand jury, resigned the day Pessoa was arrested by Cardoza at police headquarters.
Aguiar eventually resigned, but Roberts fought to keep his job by filing a civil complaint against the city.
Roberts used the pseudonym when he filed the action, but a judge denied the use of a false name the same time he denied the request for a preliminary injunction.
After the conclusion of a hearing officer was released, Police Chief Paul Gauvin ordered Roberts terminated in January.
Jo C. Goode may be reached at email@example.com. Support local journalism and subscribe to The Herald News today!
This article originally appeared on The Herald News: Michael Pessoa, a former Fall River cop faces a jury trial today