The Middlesex district attorney’s office said Tuesday that 15 cases, mostly involving drugs, have been dismissed while several Lowell police detectives face a department investigation over their role in the arrest of a suspected fentanyl dealer facing federal charges in New Hampshire.
Meghan Kelly, a spokeswoman for Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan, didn’t reveal further details about the impacted cases, which were put in jeopardy because the detectives are prohibited from testifying in court while the Lowell Police Department conducts an internal review.
She said she expected to release more information Wednesday.
At issue is whether the officers, who are assigned to the Special Investigations Section, made false statements in police reports and an affidavit filed in the case of Paul Aaron, 31. He was arrested in Lowell on March 7 while allegedly carrying a bag containing a kilogram of suspected fentanyl, according to court papers and a lawyer for the Lowell Police Association.
State prosecutors charged Aaron with several firearms offenses, and for wearing body armor during the commission of a felony. A federal grand jury in New Hampshire indicted him on drug charges as part of an investigation involving 45 people suspected of trafficking fentanyl.
Ryan’s office, however, halted its prosecution of Aaron in October after “potential inconsistencies in the evidence” came to light. He has pleaded not guilty to federal charges in New Hampshire and is in custody awaiting trial.
Defense attorney Steven J. Rappaport said two of his clients facing drug charges in Lowell District Court had their cases dismissed because the Lowell detectives weren’t available to testify. He declined to identify the clients.
“I have a number of cases with this group of officers. I am very much waiting to see where the dust settles. It may work to the benefit of my clients. I’m hoping it does,” Rappaport said.
Kelly said the cases were dismissed without prejudice, meaning Ryan’s office could resume the prosecution later.
The three officers who have been prohibited from testifying were placed on paid administrative leave on Nov. 2, said Lowell police Captain James Hodgdon. Douglas I. Louison, the lawyer for the detectives, said he also represents a fourth officer, who was not placed on administrative leave and played a minimal role in Aaron’s case.
The Lowell investigators are highly regarded detectives who were assisting a New Hampshire state trooper who had been tracking Aaron, Louison said. He said the detectives were briefed on the case about 10 minutes before they helped the trooper, Francisco Vicente, arrest Aaron. Much of the information they put in their reports and affidavits came from Vicente, Louison said.
Inconsistencies in the police account of Aaron’s arrest emerged during a hearing on Oct. 9 in federal court in Concord, N.H., during which the defense asked for some evidence to be thrown out. Vicente testified at the hearing.
A key issue was the shopping bag allegedly containing suspected fentanyl that Aaron was holding when he was arrested on East Merrimack Street.
Vicente testified that he watched Aaron approach a livery car, lean in the window, and then walk away carrying the shopping bag, according to a transcript of the hearing.
He said Aaron wasn’t carrying the bag before approaching the vehicle — a crucial detail, the defense wrote in court papers, because it prompted officers to stop Aaron because they believed he may have engaged in criminal activity.
But surveillance video from the scene of the arrest shows Aaron was carrying a bag before he approached what police described as the vehicle and after he walked away. The video was played during the October hearing and viewed Tuesday by The Boston Globe.
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, Aaron’s lawyer, David H. Bownes wrote in a Nov. 27 request to toss more evidence from the case.
After the video was played during the hearing, a federal judge signed off on Bownes’s request to toss out all evidence seized from Aaron during his arrest and a warrant to search his apartment.
A New Hampshire State Police spokesman on Tuesday referred questions about the case to Ryan’s office and didn’t respond to a follow-up e-mail about Vicente. Louison said he is not aware of any investigation, including the internal inquiry being conducted by Lowell police, which has concluded that Vicente or the Lowell detectives weren’t truthful. The Lowell police review is ongoing.
Aaron is scheduled to return to federal court later this month to seek bail.