Stoughton police officer resigns amid inquiry launched into woman’s suicide
‘Worst of small town governments’: Latest Stoughton police scandal adds to long history of unrest
Stoughton Police Chief Donna McNamara said on Friday that an internal affairs investigation more than a year old revealed that three former police officers had an “inappropriate relationship” with a young woman who had previously participated in a youth program run by the department.
Sandra Birchmore, 23, from Canton, killed herself last year while pregnant with her first child. She told friends the child’s father was Officer Matthew G. Farwell, 36, whom she met when she was 13, a member of the department’s Young Explorers Program, according to The Boston Globe.
Detailing the findings of the investigation at a press conference, McNamara said Farwell’s twin brother, William, and their former supervisor, Officer Robert C. Devine, all allegedly violated department rules and regulations by their conduct with Birchmore.
All had resigned from the ministry before the outcome of the investigation.
Investigators also found that Devine, who was once involved in a police after-school program supervising several Stoughton Middle School students, allegedly had “inappropriate contact” with a female student in that program, McNamara said.
Additionally, the department’s review found that an officer who now serves in another Massachusetts police department had an “inappropriate relationship” with Birchmore and that a military recruiter allegedly had “inappropriate communications” with Birchmore, said McNamara said.
She said her office informed the other police department of the report’s findings, but declined to provide further details, citing advice from legal counsel. McNamara also began the process of notifying the Army chain of command regarding the recruiter’s alleged misconduct.
McNamara is outraged by the findings, she said.
The report revealed “serious misconduct” which she called “deeply troubling to me as a human being and as a police chief”.
Birchmore was “stranded, manipulated and used by authority figures she admired and trusted until her final days,” McNamara said.
“Miss Birchmore was a vulnerable person, who had one constant in her life from childhood: her unwavering admiration for the police, for those who serve in the military – people in uniform with oaths and duties to protect and serve. . Admiration has led her to form relationships with men who are ready to take advantage of her.
As a result, McNamara has already informed the new Massachusetts Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission (POST) of the report’s findings and recommended “without delay” that the Farwell and Devine brothers’ certifications to serve as police officers be permanently revoked, she said.
McNamara recommended to POST that the three men be placed on a national decertification database to ensure they could never serve in law enforcement elsewhere, she said.
“The three men, brothers Farwell and Devine, violated a professional oath and should never have the privilege of serving a community as a police officer,” she said. “Through a sustained and deliberate combination of lies, deception and betrayal, they violated the policies and core values of the Stoughton Police Department – not to mention human decency.”
The department’s internal investigation involved a review of nearly 100,000 pages of cellphone and text message records and a dozen interviews, according to McNamara.
The review notably did not probe into the circumstances of Birchmore’s death, as the matter is being investigated by the Norfolk County Attorney’s Office.
McNamara said the report was submitted to the district attorney’s office. If criminal charges were brought against the men involved, those charges would come from this office.
What allegedly happened
Birchmore was found dead in her apartment in Guangzhou on February 4, 2021.
The Chief Medical Examiner’s Office later said Birchmore died by suicide and confirmed she was pregnant at the time of her death, but the identity of the father was not released.
Birchmore’s friends told the World earlier this year, Birchmore and Matthew Farwell began a sexual relationship when she was 15 – below the age of consent, 16, in Massachusetts.
According to McNamara, evidence from the internal investigation shows Matthew Farwell allegedly began “an inappropriate relationship” with Birchmore when she was 15 and he was 27.
Investigators allegedly found numerous digital messages containing “explicit exchanges” between the two over several years, McNamara said.
Matthew Farwell reportedly went to Birchmore’s flat on February 1, 2021, days before she was found dead, to end their relationship and got into what he later described as a “quarrel quite unpleasant,” McNamara said.
Speaking to state police after Birchmore’s death, Matthew Farwell admitted he had sex with her in 2020, but the sexual part of their relationship ended in October of that year , according to World.
Farwell told investigators that Birchmore said the baby was due in September 2021, and given that time frame, he couldn’t be the father, the newspaper reports.
He resigned from the ministry in April.
William Farwell also allegedly had “multiple inappropriate physical encounters” with Birchmore, and evidence showed he exchanged explicit messages and photographs with her while on duty, McNamara said.
“The evidence suggests that William Farwell also, at the very least, attempted to introduce Miss Birchmore to other men,” she said.
Devine also allegedly had an inappropriate relationship with Birchmore, McNamara said.
A former deputy head of the department, Devine was demoted six years ago after a department investigation found he had lied to investigators investigating allegations that he had wrongly requested that an officer investigate a woman who harassed him, according to the World. This report revealed that Devine had had an extramarital affair with the woman.
Devine began overseeing the department’s Explorer program about 20 years ago and transformed what was traditionally a scouting program into a “paramilitary-style program that taught aspects of policing to young participants,” according to McNamara. The Farwell brothers participated in the program when they were younger.
But the latest internal review found Devine’s alleged misconduct extends beyond his previous record and the allegations about his relationship with Birchmore that he now faces, McNamara said.
“Devine was part of an after-school program at Stoughton Middle School, where he and other officers were in charge of several students without supervision from members of the school district,” McNamara said. “The investigation determined that Devine had inappropriate contact with a student in this program.”
Devine resigned from the department last month.
Officers deny wrongdoing
In an email to WorldDevine, who is also a lawyer, denied the allegations against him.
“I will challenge these findings in every forum available to me and anticipate legal action for multiple violations,” Devine wrote. “At least in my case, it was a politically motivated sham against an employee who consistently spoke out against leadership. let me know.
In a letter to McNamara last month, Devine criticized the decision to furlough him earlier this year as unnecessary and unfair, the World reports.
He wrote that he had no “personal relationship” with Birchmore and did not share his phone number with her, according to the newspaper.
“If you try to defame me in the end,” Devine wrote to McNamara, “I am prepared to use any legal means at my disposal to fight you.”
William Farwell resigned from the department Aug. 1 while serving with the Transportation Security Administration at Baltimore/Washington International Airport, where he is now employed as an explosives specialist, according to the World.
A TSA spokesperson told the newspaper last month that a review of William Farwell’s work history “did not reveal any derogatory information.”
In his resignation letter to the department, he wrote that he denies “all allegations of misconduct.”
“I have no confidence in the independence and objectivity of [the] city investigation and refuge [sic] already provided to [sic] statement to the state police,” he wrote.
A lawyer for Matthew Farwell told the World he had not yet seen the report on Thursday evening and therefore could not comment.
Earlier this year, however, Matthew Farwell told the outlet in a statement that Birchmore’s death was a tragedy, but that he had committed no crime.
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