Sandra Birchmore’s family files suit against 3 ex-Stoughton police officers
The Boston Globe
By Laura Crimaldi, The Boston Globe
The estate of a young woman who killed herself last year while expecting her first child filed a wrongful death lawsuit Thursday against three former Stoughton police officers, accusing them of pushing her to suicide with a decade-long scheme of “grooming and repeated sexual assaults from a young age.”
The 14-page complaint filed in Norfolk Superior Court blames the three former officers for the death of Sandra Birchmore, 23, and alleges all three sexually assaulted her after she enrolled in a youth explorers program run by the Stoughton Police Department when she was 13 years old.
One of the officers, Matthew G. Farwell, met Birchmore when she started in the explorers program and began having sex with her when she was 15 and he was 27, according to the lawsuit. If true, those actions would be statutory rape, as the age of consent in Massachusetts is 16.
Three of Birchmore’s friends have told the Globe that Birchmore said she became pregnant in late 2020 with the child of Farwell, a detective, former patrolmen’s union president, and married father.
He was also the last known person to see her alive on the evening of Feb. 1, 2021, according to the lawsuit and an internal affairs report released earlier this year. In the weeks before her death, Birchmore had received a $200 baby stroller as a gift and police found a sonogram photo in her kitchenette.
The complaint also accuses the Town of Stoughton and its Police Department of negligence in hiring Matthew Farwell and his twin brother, William T. Farwell, 37, and in supervising them and Robert C. Devine, 50, the former leader of the police explorers program and a mentor to the brothers.
The Farwell brothers were hired, the lawsuit said, even though members of the force knew that when they were teenagers they had impersonated police officers and pulled over motor vehicles.
The town and its police force also owed Birchmore a “duty of care” to “protect her from the abuse and inappropriate conduct” she faced from the Farwell brothers and Devine, the lawsuit said.
On Thursday, Matthew Farwell’s lawyer said his client cooperated with prosecutors who investigated Birchmore’s death.
“He played no role in her death and the District Attorney charged him with no crime in connection with her death or otherwise,” said the attorney, Patrick Hanley. Farwell hasn’t been served yet with the lawsuit, Hanley said in an e-mail.
“If/when he is served, he will respond appropriately,” Hanley said.
The other former Stoughton officers, William Farwell and Devine, didn’t respond Thursday to requests for comment, but have previously denied any wrongdoing.
The lawsuit doesn’t specify when William Farwell and Devine initiated sexual contact with Birchmore, but asserts she was three months pregnant “allegedly by one of the men” when she killed herself in February last year. The complaint said Matthew Farwell used a location sharing app to track Birchmore’s whereabouts.
No criminal charges have been brought against the Farwell brothers or Devine. All three men voluntarily left their jobs with Stoughton police earlier this year.
The Farwell brothers and Devine “undertook to engage in inappropriate relationships with [Birchmore] who was a minor when the sexual relationships were initiated, abusing her trust and adoration of law enforcement, which through their inappropriate and undue influence, ultimately led her to allegedly take her own life,” the complaint said.
On Thursday, a spokesman for Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey said prosecutors continue to review Birchmore’s case to determine “if criminal charges can be pursued.” In September, Morrissey said an earlier investigation “did not produce evidence of criminality in her death.”
The family’s lawsuit comes three months after Stoughton police announced that an internal affairs investigation into the three officers found their interactions with Birchmore violated their oaths and rendered them “unfit to serve.”
At the time, the department said it had asked the new Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission to decertify the Farwell brothers and Devine as police officers, which would prohibit them from working in law enforcement in Massachusetts.
On Thursday, a commission spokeswoman declined to comment.
The internal affairs investigation in Stoughton also examined Birchmore’s interactions with two other men: an Abington police officer who had “inappropriate relations” with her and a military recruiter who had “inappropriate communications” with her. Their names were redacted from the Stoughton report, and the lawsuit by Birchmore’s estate doesn’t mention them.
But Birchmore’s family did name the Town of Stoughton and its Police Department as defendants in the complaint, accusing them of negligent hiring and supervision and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Stoughton Police Chief Donna McNamara said Thursday she couldn’t comment.
Birchmore’s estate is represented by her aunt, Darlene Smith, the twin sister of Birchmore’s mother, who died in 2016. Smith’s lawyer, Steven J. Marullo, declined to comment on Thursday.
The complaint describes Birchmore as facing adversity from an early age as a result of “significant mental and emotional problems.” As a teenager, she faced grief over the deaths of her grandmother and mother, who raised her in Stoughton.
But from early adolescence, Birchmore “deeply respected authority figures, most notably police officers,” and joined Stoughton’s police explorers program, the lawsuit said. It was there that she met Devine, the program leader, and the Farwell brothers, who were instructors and Devine’s protegees, the complaint said.
Police found Birchmore’s body in her apartment in Canton on Feb. 4, 2021, while conducting a well-being check sought by her employer, Sharon Public Schools, which had alerted authorities after she missed a few days of work.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner concluded Birchmore died by suicide and confirmed she was pregnant at the time of her death, according to her death certificate. Records do not indicate the father’s identity. Her family’s complaint refers to her death as an “alleged suicide.”
Three days before Birchmore’s body was found, surveillance footage from her apartment complex showed Matthew Farwell entering her building and then exiting 28 minutes later, State Police records show.
In an interview with investigators, Matthew Farwell said during that visit on Feb. 1, 2021, he told Birchmore he wasn’t the baby’s father, ended a relationship with her, and then blocked her on all communication platforms, records show.
The following morning, on Feb. 2, 2021 — according to a birth certificate obtained by the Globe — Matthew Farwell’s wife gave birth to a boy in Newton.
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