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Stoughton police chief: 4 officers had inappropriate relationships with young woman who took her own life

An internal affairs probe also found a military recruiter had "inappropriate communication" with the woman, the chief said.

Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff
Stoughton Police

Stoughton Police Chief Donna McNamara said on Friday a year-plus-long internal affairs investigation found three former police officers had “inappropriate relationships” with a young woman who once participated in a department-run youth program.

Sandra Birchmore, 23, of Canton, took her own life last year while pregnant with her first child. She told friends the father of the child was Officer Matthew G. Farwell, 36, whom she met when she was a 13-year-old member of the department’s youth explorers program, according to The Boston Globe.

Detailing the probe’s findings 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 through their conduct with Birchmore.

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All had resigned from the department before the outcome of the investigation.

Investigators also found Devine, who was once involved in a police after-school program overseeing several Stoughton Middle School students, allegedly had “inappropriate contact” with a female student in that program, McNamara said.

Furthermore, the department’s review revealed an officer who now serves in another Massachusetts police department had “inappropriate relations” with Birchmore and a military recruiter allegedly had “inappropriate communication” with Birchmore, McNamara said.

She said her office notified the other police department of the report’s conclusions, but declined to elaborate further, citing the advice of legal counsel. McNamara has also started the process of notifying the military’s chain of command regarding the recruiter’s alleged misconduct.

McNamara is outraged by the findings, she said.

The report found “serious misconduct” that she called “deeply troubling to me as a human being and as a police chief.”

Stoughton Police Chief Donna McNamara speaks at Friday’s press conference. – Jonathan Wiggs /Globe Staff

Birchmore was “failed by, manipulated by, and used by people of authority that she admired and trusted right up until her final days,” McNamara said.

“Miss Birchmore was a vulnerable person, who had one constant in her life since childhood: Her unwavering admiration of police officers, of those serving in the military — people in uniform people with oaths and duties to protect and serve. The admiration led her to form relationships with men who are willing to take advantage of her.”

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As a result, McNamara has already notified the newly formed Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission of the report’s findings and has recommended “without delay” that the Farwell brothers’ and Devine’s certifications to serve as police officers be permanently revoked, she said.

McNamara recommended to POST that all three men be placed in a national de-certification database to ensure they can never serve in law enforcement anywhere else, she said.

“All three men, the Farwell brothers and Devine, violated an oath of office and should never have the privilege of serving any community as a police officer,” she said. “Through a sustained and deliberate combination of lies, deceit, and treachery, they violated the policies and the core values of the Stoughton Police Department — not to mention human decency.”

The department’s internal investigation spanned a review of nearly 100,000 pages of cellphone records and text messages and a dozen interviews, according to McNamara.

The review did not, notably, probe the circumstances of Birchmore’s death, as that matter is being investigated by the Norfolk County District Attorney’s Office.

McNamara said the report has been submitted to the district attorney’s office. Should any criminal charges be brought against the men involved, those charges would come from that office.

What allegedly happened

Birchmore was found dead inside her apartment in Canton on Feb. 4, 2021.

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The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner later said Birchmore died by suicide and confirmed she was pregnant at the time of her death, but the father’s identity was not disclosed.

Birchmore’s friends told the Globe earlier this year that 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 probe demonstrates Matthew Farwell allegedly began “an inappropriate relationship” with Birchmore when she was 15 and he was 27.

Investigators allegedly found many digital messages containing “explicit exchanges” between the two over several years, McNamara said.

Matthew Farwell allegedly went to Birchmore’s apartment on Feb. 1, 2021, days before she was found dead, to end their relationship and got into what he later described as a “pretty nasty argument,” McNamara said.

Speaking with State Police after Birchmore’s death, Matthew Farwell acknowledged he had sex with her in 2020 but the sexual part of their relationship ended in October that year, according to the Globe.

Farwell told investigators Birchmore said the baby was due in September 2021, and given that timeframe, he could not be the father, the newspaper reports.

He resigned from the department in April.

William Farwell also allegedly had “multiple inappropriate physical encounters” with Birchmore, and evidence allegedly showed he exchanged explicit messages and photographs with her while he was 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 inappropriate relations with Birchmore, McNamara said.

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A former deputy chief of the department, Devine had been demoted six years ago after a department investigation discovered he lied to investigators who were probing allegations he improperly demanded an officer investigate a woman who was harassing him, according to the Globe. That report found Devine had had an extramarital affair with the woman.

Devine began overseeing the department’s explorers program about 20 years ago, and changed what had traditionally been a scouting program into a “paramilitary-style program that taught aspects of policing to youth 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 involving his relations 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 female student in that program.”

Devine resigned from the department last month.

Officers deny wrongdoing

In an email to the Globe, Devine, who is also an attorney, denied the allegations against him.

“I will challenge these findings in every forum available to me and anticipate legal action for multiple infractions,” Devine wrote. “At least in my case, this was a politically motivated sham against an employee who has consistently spoken out against leadership. It speaks volumes that they released any findings to the media before ever notifying me.”

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In a letter to McNamara last month, Devine slammed the decision to place him on leave earlier this year as unnecessary and unfair, the Globe reports.

He wrote he had no “personal relationship” with Birchmore and did not share his phone number with her, according to the newspaper.

“Should you try to defame me at the end of this,” Devine wrote to McNamara, “I am prepared to resort to every legal means at my disposal to fight you.”

William Farwell resigned from the department on Aug. 1 as he took up a job with the Transportation Security Administration at Baltimore/Washington International Airport, where is now employed as an explosives specialist, according to the Globe.

A TSA spokesman told the newspaper last month that a review of William Farwell’s work history “developed no derogatory information.”

In his resignation letter to the department, he wrote he denies “any/all allegations of misconduct.”

“I do not have confidence in the independence and objectivity of [the] town’s investigation and haven [sic] already provided at [sic] statement to the state police,” he wrote.

A lawyer for Matthew Farwell told the Globe 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 did not commit any crimes.