Three former Stoughton police officers had “inappropriate relations” with a woman they met through a department-run youth program when she was a teenager, according to a newly released internal affairs report. Investigators also found that one of the officers, Matthew Farwell, ended his relationship with the woman, Sandra Birchmore, shortly before she killed herself in 2021.
The heavily redacted report released on Friday by the Stoughton Police Department capped a 19-month internal investigation, which also hinted at a larger pattern of police misconduct involving female teenagers in the town. Under Massachusetts' law, a person cannot legally consent to sex before they are 16 years old. The report also concluded that the three officers misled investigators looking into Birchmore’s death.
“Through a sustained and deliberate combination of lies, deceit and treachery, [the three officers] violated the policies and the core values of the Stoughton Police Department, not to mention human decency,” Stoughton Police Chief Donna McNamara said during a press conference Friday, in which she outlined the report's findings.
Birchmore’s connection to the three officers — twins Matthew and William Farwell, and Robert Devine — began when she was 13 years old, as part of a now-defunct Stoughton Police Explorer’s Program. According to McNamara, Matthew Farwell's relationship with Birchmore turned inappropriate when she was 15 and he was 27. Neither the chief nor the unredacted sections of the report specified the exact nature of their relationship.
In one of the more heavily redacted parts of the report, investigators suggest Birchmore may have been pregnant at the time of her death, when she was 23 years old. It cites an interview with a relative of Birchmore in which she “went on to describe the pressure that Sandra was placing on Matthew Farwell to participate in the baby’s life.”
While the unredacted portions of the report do not include more specifics, The Boston Globe reports that Birchmore told friends before she died that she was pregnant with Matthew Farwell’s child.
Chief McNamara said the investigation found that William Farwell and Devine also had inappropriate relations with Birchmore, including efforts by William Farwell to introduce her to other men, but the report does not indicate whether she was underage at the time of those encounters. McNamara added that Devine, who had been previously demoted from deputy chief to patrol officer for "abuse of power," had a history of inappropriate conduct with at least one other underage girl connected to the Explorer’s Program. Devine told the Globe he denied the allegations against him.
Matthew Farwell resigned from the department in March. Both William Farwell and Devine resigned in August.
McNamara said she was “heartbroken and incensed” by the conduct of the three former officers. She said she was notifying Massachusetts’ Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission of their findings, and recommending that the Farwell brothers and Devine be permanently barred from serving as police officers in the state. She also said was requesting that POST place the men’s names in a national decertification index, “ensuring they never serve as police officers anywhere.”
McNamara also said the report was given to the Norfolk District Attorney’s Office. In a statement, DA spokesperson David Traub said, “While prosecutors will review any additional information, it should be noted that, in light of Ms. Birchmore’s death at age 23, the investigation to date has not developed a prosecutable statutory rape case against any individual.”
Traub also said both Farwells and Devine had been added to the office’s “Brady list,” which notifies defense lawyers in potential cases of any violations or offenses by police officers that might call their credibility into question in a court case.
The Chair of Stoughton’s Select Board, Debra Roberts, said in an email, that she was “appalled by the findings outlined in the report.”
“This was a critically important investigation,” Roberts added. “The road to rebuilding trust between the community and our police department begins with these findings, and with the decisive action taken by Chief Donna McNamara against the former officers involved. Their leadership will be an essential part of moving the Stoughton Police Department in a positive direction.”