Lowell police are prohibiting some officers from testifying after questions raised about drug case, DA says
The Lowell Police Department is prohibiting some of its officers from testifying in criminal cases while they investigate their role in a drug case after a defense attorney raised questions about the veracity of police reports and affidavits that were submitted as evidence.
On Friday, the Middlesex district attorney’s office said it has sought to delay court proceedings for cases in which the officers cannot testify, but some of those requests have been denied and the cases were dismissed.
It was unclear Friday night how many criminal cases have been jeopardized by the department’s decision to prohibit the officers from testifying.
Meghan Kelly, a spokeswoman for Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan, said she didn’t know how many criminal cases have been impacted .
Attorney Douglas Louison, who represents the Lowell Police Association, said the department is investigating four detectives, including three who were placed on paid administrative leave. He said he expects the investigation will find the detectives conducted themselves professionally and followed the law.
“This is not a situation where there was any kind of misconduct or illegal activity by the police. It’s just the opposite,” he said.
Lowell Police Superintendent Raymond Kelly Richardson said in a statement that three captains are reviewing the incident and plan to forward their findings to Ryan’s office. The statement didn’t include details about the incident and said the department wouldn’t comment further until the review is complete.
The officers were instructed not to testify after information about “potential inconsistencies” with evidence emerged in the case of Paul Aaron, 31, a Lowell resident who was charged in March with several gun offenses, trafficking fentanyl and heroin, and wearing body armor during the commission of a felony, Kelly said in a statement.
A federal grand jury in New Hampshire later indicted Aaron on the drug offenses, Kelly said, but lawyers in Ryan’s office halted the prosecution of the gun and body armor charges in state court after learning about potential evidence problems. Kelly’s statement did not specify how they learned about the possible evidence issues.
Aaron has pleaded not guilty to drug conspiracy charges in federal court and is being held while he awaits trial, court records show.
But in October, US District Court Judge Joseph N. Laplante tossed out evidence seized on March 7 when Aaron was arrested near his apartment on East Merrimack Street in Lowell wearing a bullet-proof vest and carrying a gray Puma shopping bag that allegedly contained a kilogram of suspected fentanyl, court records show.
The shopping bag — and when Aaron was allegedly carrying it — is central to the dispute over what police say happened before the arrest, Aaron’s lawyer, David H. Bownes, said in court papers.
Police allege they watched Aaron approach a yellow livery minivan, extend his hands inside the passenger side window, and then walk away carrying the shopping bag. Aaron wasn’t carrying the bag before he walked up to the vehicle, officers said, prompting police to approach him because they believed he may have engaged in criminal activity .
In court papers, however, the defense suggested Aaron was carrying the bag before and after he approached the vehicle.
Federal prosecutors initially objected to Aaron’s petition to throw out the evidence, but withdrew their opposition after a hearing on Oct. 9 during which New Hampshire State Trooper Francisco Vicente testified about the arrest, court records show.
During the hearing, Bownes showed a video and photographs that contradicted Vicente’s account about what led to the arrest, court papers show. The video was recorded by a security camera, Louison said.
Vicente’s testimony was similar to a police report about the arrest written by Lowell police Detective Rafael Rivera and an affidavit prepared by Lowell police Detective Nicholas Dokos, who sought and obtained a search warrant for Aaron’s apartment, Bownes wrote in a Nov. 27 request to toss more evidence from the case.
According to Bownes, the video and photographs showed that “the events surrounding Mr. Aaron’s arrest on March 7, 2018 were decidedly different than the testimony concocted by law enforcement in order to justify Mr. Aaron’s arrest.”
Louison said the detectives’ primary role was to assist Vicente, who was tracking Aaron during a larger investigation that led to the arrest of 45 people suspected of trafficking fentanyl. The reports they wrote were truthful, he said.
Working telephone numbers for Dokos and Rivera couldn’t be located Friday night and Vicente could not be reached.
On Friday, Bownes said in a brief telephone interview that he doesn’t know how many cases in Massachusetts may be affected because of the questions he raised about the investigation into Aaron. He declined to discuss video evidence shown in court.
The Globe on Friday was unable to obtain a copy of the video of Aaron’s arrest or transcript of the court proceeding during which Vicente testified.
Aaron is scheduled to return to court on Dec. 27 to ask for permission to be released pending trial.
On Wednesday, prosecutors asked for more time to respond to Aaron’s request to throw out additional evidence . In the filing, Assistant US Attorney Georgiana L. Koneskycq wrote that both sides “believe it is in their mutual interest to engage in a discussion regarding a possible disposition of the case.”
Laplante agreed to give the prosecution until Jan. 4 to respond .