Fall River police violated suspect’s rights, judge says
Evidence tossed in gun, drug case
For the third time, US District Judge Mark L. Wolf has issued a scathing ruling against law enforcement officials in Massachusetts, saying the Fall River Police Department violated a suspect’s civil rights and used coercion to recover weapons and drugs from his house — evidence that will now be suppressed.
The latest case involves Aryam Gonzalez, a 20-year-old Fall River man arrested in February 2009 and charged with gun and drug possession. Gonzalez’s lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence, saying his client’s Fifth Amendment rights were violated following his arrest by several Fall River police officers.
Gonzalez contends that he was dazed after being blindsided and forcibly restrained by police on the sidewalk outside his mother’s home, where he lives, and doesn’t remember the officers reading him his Miranda rights, assuring him of his right to remain silent. He also says that an officer punched him and that he was coerced into telling authorities where to find the gun and drugs.
Yesterday, Wolf granted the motion to suppress the evidence, essen tially tossing out most of the physical evidence police took from the home. Wolf has yet to rule on whether to suppress evidence of another handgun found in a subsequent sweep of the house. The judge is expected to make a determination on that issue by August, when the case is due back in court. Gonzalez is being held.
If the evidence found in the subsequent search is allowed, Gonzalez faces a minimum 15-year sentence. If all of the evidence had remained, he would have faced at least 25 years.
“This is another case in which police misconduct has jeopardized the prosecution of a defendant charged with unlawfully possessing a firearm, among other things,’’ Wolf wrote in his memorandum and order.
Page Kelley, the assistant federal public defender representing Gonzalez, said she was familiar with Wolf’s previous rulings.
“Judge Wolf is a former prosecutor himself and is very well known for holding prosecutors and law enforcement officials to a high standard of conduct. They know he’s not going to overlook people he thinks are lying.’’
In 1990, the judge ruled that statements made by a suspect in a drug case should be suppressed because he involuntarily led police to a handgun he had tossed aside during a chase, a violation of his fourth and fifth amendments rights. The suspect, Michael Rullo, had been beaten by police following an extensive manhunt in East Boston, according to court records.
In that case, Wolf wrote: “It is evident that Rullo’s will was overborne as a result of police misconduct.’’
Last year, Wolf considered but eventually ruled against suppressing evidence in a firearms case in Dorchester involving defendant Darwin Jones, after finding that Assistant US Attorney Suzanne Sullivan erred in failing to provide discovery information to the defendant’s lawyer. Wolf considered but did not impose sanctions against Sullivan.
Fall River Police Chief Daniel S. Racine, who took the job in March, declined to talk about the Gonzalez case, saying it is the policy of the department not to discuss pending litigation. He did say, however, that “the Fall River Police detectives and officers are trained and instructed that Miranda has to be voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waived. Certainly across the country, that is one of the basic tenants of policing.’’
Christina Dilorio-Sterling, spokeswoman for the US attorney’s office in Boston, also declined to talk specifically about the case or Wolf’s history in similar cases, but said, “we’re reviewing the [suppression] order and considering our appellate options.’’
Brian Ballou can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.