Two Stoughton police officers have been placed on paid administrative leave, following the resignation of a third, amid a widening misconduct probe prompted by the death last year of a 23-year-old pregnant woman in Canton.
Town officials identified the two officers on leave as Robert Devine and William Farwell, the twin brother of Matthew G. Farwell, who resigned after misconduct allegations surfaced in a State Police probe into the February 2021 suicide of Sandra Birchmore.
Stoughton officials have declined to specify the allegations against the Farwells and Devine, but confirmed the department’s action stemmed from information State Police troopers shared last summer.
Matthew Farwell told State Police last year that he had ended a relationship with Birchmore and blocked her on all communication platforms days before she was discovered dead in her apartment, according to documents released to the Globe following a records request. He resigned from the department on April 1.
William Farwell, who has been on military leave, was informed Tuesday that he was being placed on paid administrative leave, said Town Manager Robin A. Grimm said. Devine was placed on paid administrative leave last week.
Three of Birchmore’s friends have told the Globe that Matthew Farwell began having sex with Birchmore eight years earlier, when she was 15, and that she met him while taking part in a police youth explorers program. If true, those actions would be statutory rape — the age of consent is 16. More recently, Birchmore told friends she was pregnant with his child, though records show Farwell, who is married with children, told investigators he was not the father.
Police Chief Donna McNamara said the department’s investigation is ongoing.
“We are taking the internal investigation very seriously and we’re committed to holding our employees accountable for their actions,” McNamara said late last week.
Devine, a deputy chief who was demoted to the rank of officer in 2016, did not respond to requests for comment. Both Farwells also didn’t respond.
In a statement released April 1, Matthew Farwell called Birchmore’s death tragic and said he had no role in it. He also said he had not committed any crimes.
State Police and the medical examiner classified Birchmore’s death a suicide. No criminal charges have been filed.
In an employment questionnaire filed in 2010, Matthew Farwell listed his experience as an assistant instructor in the police explorers program and listed Devine as his supervisor.
For a year, authorities said little about the investigation into Birchmore’s death and the separate internal affairs probe. In August, Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey’s office placed Farwell on its list of officers whose credibility has been called into question, linking it to the pending internal investigation, records show.
After Farwell’s resignation, Morrissey’s office released an initial batch of partially redacted records from the death investigation, and last week released an additional 25 pages. In a letter, Morrissey’s office said it was continuing to withhold other records because disclosure would jeopardize Stoughton Police Department’s internal investigation.
The newly released records include State Police reports and interviews with Farwell and friends of Birchmore. In February 2021, Farwell told State Police troopers that he and Birchmore engaged in a sexual relationship from early 2020 until October of that year. He said her baby was due in September, and based on that timeline, he was not the father.
He acknowledged he met Birchmore when she was a participant and he was an instructor in a Stoughton police youth explorers program, which introduces teenagers to law enforcement careers.
“Matt said that Sandra had a troubled life and he felt bad for her. He would keep tabs on her over the years,” State Police Sergeant John Fanning wrote in a report.
Farwell told troopers he visited Birchmore’s apartment on the evening of Feb. 1, 2021, telling her that he wasn’t the father of her baby, records show. Birchmore was upset, Farwell told the troopers, but didn’t make “any suicidal statements.”
“Matt said that he was straightforward in his conversation with her, and told her that it was all over and he was blocking her from all forms of communication,” Fanning wrote.
Surveillance footage from Birchmore’s apartment complex showed Farwell entering her apartment building and then exiting 28 minutes later, State Police records show.
In March 2021, Farwell’s attorney, Patrick Hanley, told Fanning in a letter that his client would not provide a DNA sample or participate in a polygraph interview, calling them “far outside the norm for mere witnesses in an investigation.”
Polygraph results, Hanley wrote, are inadmissible in court, because they are considered unreliable. On the DNA sample, Hanley wrote: “I expect his DNA profile would reveal nothing of value to your case.”
“My client had no role in Ms. Birchmore’s death,” Hanley wrote. “He certainly never encouraged her to take her life, nor did he have any reason to fear that she would take her own life. He was shocked and saddened when he learned that she had taken her own life.”
Hanley declined to comment.
The records don’t specify when authorities believe Birchmore died, and her death certificate lists her date of death as Feb. 4, 2021, the day her body was found.
One of her co-workers told the Globe that Birchmore, a Sharon Public Schools employee, sent a Snapchat message on Feb. 1 asking whether school would be canceled the following day because of a nor’easter. Her colleague said she responded to the message at 9:28 p.m., but that Birchmore never opened the communication. The colleague said Birchmore’s failure to respond was out of character because she normally was prompt to open and answer Snapchat messages. A friend said she texted Birchmore at 11:58 p.m. Feb. 1, 2021, and Birchmore didn’t respond.
Farwell told investigators he deleted all his communications with Birchmore, and a search of his work and personal cellphones did not reveal any communications with her, according to the police report.
However, a State Police examination of Birchmore’s laptop uncovered about 12 months of iMessages and social media content, including her communications with Farwell and others, the report states.
Farwell and Birchmore texted “thousands of times over the year,” the report states, and the texts made clear that they had a sexual relationship.
Following Birchmore’s death, troopers visited East Elementary School in Sharon, where Birchmore worked, and interviewed her colleagues. The principal told State Police that he had spoken to Birchmore’s aunt after her death and she had mentioned Farwell. Three other school employees said Birchmore had shared that she was pregnant; two of those employees said Birchmore described her boyfriend as a police detective.
Three women who knew Birchmore well expressed shock over her death in interviews with the Globe.
“She has always wanted to be a mother,” said Kellie Nee, who was related to Birchmore by marriage. “She was having this child. Why would she kill herself?”
Birchmore grew up in Stoughton, where she was raised by her mother, grandmother, and an aunt. In 2016, her mother and grandmother died about a month apart, and her aunt died in 2019.
Antonetta Fopiano, Birchmore’s cousin, said she saw her two weeks before her death.
“I saw a girl who was extremely psyched and happy,” she said.
Another cousin, Tracey Strausbaugh, called Birchmore vibrant, “a little beam of light.”
Laura Crimaldi can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.