FALL RIVER – After nearly five days of testimony in the criminal case against former Fall River police officer Michael Pessoa alleging excessive force, lies and civil rights violations, prosecutors and the team of defense have closed their cases. Now the fate of the veteran cop is in the hands of the jury.
Closing arguments began after Pessoa completed cross-examination by Bristol County Assistant District Attorney William McCauley, and Lt. John Martins was called back to the stand to rebut his testimony.
Pessoa’s trial could be the first of three trials against him for alleged misconduct, and would be the only one caught on surveillance camera.
In June 2019, Pessoa was charged with 15 counts of allegedly assaulting four men in separate incidents, all while they were in custody. One case was dismissed and Superior Court Judge Renee Dupuis ordered that the remaining cases be severed, against the wishes of the Bristol County District Attorney’s office.
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In the case, involving town resident David Lafrance, Pessoa faces charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, witness intimidation, civil rights violations and filing false reports.
After the alleged assault, Lafrance was charged with a host of crimes, which were later dropped along with the charges pending against the other victims, after a state grand jury indicted Pessoa.
Pessoa denies having lied to his superiors
Pessoa, a 19-year-old police veteran, is accused of conspiring to lie about police reports with the three younger, less experienced officers who also responded to a call about a dispute between neighbors in February 2019.
After the incident, officers were seen interacting with Lafrance outside an apartment building on Main Street South on CCTV.
Lafrance claims Pessoa punched him in the face with a clenched fist. Pessoa claims that Lafrance, who was about to be released by former police officer Thomas Roberts, “shot” Lafrance after threatening to assault police.
The video shows Pessoa descending from a stoop, standing in front of Lafrance and throwing himself at him, where Lafrance falls to the ground backwards.
Pessoa initially failed to complete a required “use of force” report and was called back to duty by Martins after seeing Lafrance’s photo, which revealed he had a bloody lip and a bruise on his face.
On Tuesday, Pessoa testified that he gave Martins a detailed description of the incident. He said he attempted an armbar technique to take Lafrance down, but was out of position and knocked him to the ground pushing the back of his head.
McCauley asked if Pessoa gave a “detailed” account of the incident.
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“I had a very thorough conversation with him about it, yes,” Pessoa replied.
Martins, who was the shift commander the night of the incident, had a different version.
Assistant District Attorney Gillian Kirsch asked Martins about his discussions with Pessoa, admitting the two spoke at length about his laying down of Lafrance.
Kirsch asked if at any point Pessoa explained he grabbed Lafrance by the back of the head, with Martins replying, “No.”
“At some point, did he tell you that he tried, but failed, to administer an arm bar?” Kirsch asked.
“No, he didn’t,” Martins said.
“Would you ever tell an officer to put something in a report that isn’t true?” Kirsch asked.
“No, I wouldn’t,” Martins said.
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Defense attorney Frank Camera asked Martins if Pessoa, as an officer, had the right “to act on it.”
“Hasn’t he been taught that he has to defuse and put him and his other officers in danger?” asked the camera.
“De-escalation is taught,” Martins said.
The camera asked whether the officers had been taught at the police academy how to use force. Martins agreed but added that de-escalation techniques should be used in most cases.
“Blue Blood Runs Deep”
In his closing arguments, Camera reminded jurors that when the trial began, prosecutors called the charges against Lafrance “based on a package of lies.”
“Isn’t it ironic that the lies come from Mr. Lafrance, their witness,” Camera said. “See what they have done, and continue to do until the end, it is deceiving you. To show you a case that is not complete.
In the conclusion presented by Kirsch, she said that in February 2019, officers responded to what should have been a routine call, and the video shows “that’s how it all started.”
Roberts, she said, had determined there would be no charges against Lafrance that night, but it turned into a violent assault by Pessoa and false accusations against Lafrance.
“But as you’ve heard, blue blood runs deep,” Kirsch said.
This article originally appeared on The Herald News: Closing Arguments in Fall River Police Brutality Case; jury to decide