NEW BEDFORD — City police officer Vincent Peters was fired this month after an investigator concluded that he abused his authority by purchasing five firearms from people who had intended to turn them in to the police department. The investigator also found that Peters intentionally submitted false statements about his use of force on a 17-year-old teen.

Peters was placed on administrative leave in mid-July pending the outcome of the investigation. An investigator determined he violated 11 department rules, including use of position to gain privileges, immoral conduct, speaking the truth, and false information on record. The findings of falsehoods recall earlier questions about Peters: the city hired him in 2020 despite having found in 2011 that he had lied on his application to the department.

The police department’s complaint policy establishes a 90-day window to complete an internal investigation, but it took 10 months to investigate and ultimately discipline Peters. A recent report on the New Bedford Police Department by consulting firm Jensen Hughes describes a “problematic” situation in the department, with internal investigations running too long, and officers and complainants “left hanging” on the status of an investigation.

The investigation opened in the department’s internal affairs unit, supervised by then-lieutenant, now-Capt. Robert Holmes, in October 2022. But the city later handed the inquiry to an outside investigator, who interviewed Peters in April, due to a perceived or actual conflict of interest. Records obtained by The Light state that Holmes, a “friend” of Peters, was the source of the potential conflict.

Officer bought five guns 

Peters’ employment with the New Bedford Police Department was bookended by falsehoods, according to records.

In his 2011 application to the department, Peters lied about his extracurriculars in high school and was found to have falsely portrayed himself on social media as a city police officer, records state. 

On his application, Peters answered yes to questions of whether he had ever pretended to be a police officer or public servant, and whether he had ever withheld information or lied on a job application.

Peters appealed the department’s decision to bypass him for hiring in 2014, but the state Civil Service Commission concluded the department was justified. He tried again, and in February 2020, he was sworn in as a city police officer.

Less than two years later, Peters’ misconduct on the job began, according to investigative reports released to the New Bedford Light in response to a public records request. At the time, in 2021, Peters was working “light duty” in the firearms division. 

Peters, while off duty, purchased five firearms for hundreds of dollars below market value from two people who had contacted NBPD to have the firearms division take the guns off their hands, according to internal and external investigators.

“Peters estimated that the rifle he bought from [redacted] was worth between $600.00 and $1,000.00, but he only paid about $90.00 for it,” wrote Alfred Donovan, a retired police chief for Tewksbury who investigated Peters for the police department. For the remaining firearms, he said Peters paid $40 but estimated them to value at $500 in total. 

According to NBPD’s internal investigation, Peters kept two of the firearms and traded in the rest at a gun shop for a new .22 firearm. He told investigators that he believed he was providing a “service” for people who wanted to get rid of the firearms.

But by doing so, Peters diverted the firearms from the police department, which takes in people’s unwanted guns and often destroys them. Sometimes, people can receive gift certificates in exchange for the guns through community programs. 

During an event this spring at UMass Dartmouth, an Episcopal bishop used his blacksmith skills to fashion cut-up guns turned over to the New Bedford police into garden tools. Police Chief Paul Oliveira joined in, alongside college students, shaping the hot gun metal into a hand shovel.

Cut up guns that have been turned into local police departments. In April 2023, NBPD and UMass Dartmouth hosted an event to turn parts like these into gardening tools. Credit: Anastasia E. Lennon / The New Bedford Light

“All the guns that we did find were legal firearms,” Oliveira said after one gun turn-in event, “but they are potential firearms that could’ve ended up on our streets.”

Peters said he bought the guns because their owners asked for a police unit to come to their homes and retrieve the guns, but his superiors said they could not afford to take a cruiser off the road for the task. He then said his superiors said he could purchase the guns himself when off duty. 

Peters said his superiors in the division — Sgt. Donald Williams and Det. Nathan Pimentel — had advised him, when he asked, that it was not a violation of any laws and he was free to purchase the firearms on his own time.

Williams and Pimentel denied that, telling investigators they communicated to Peters that while it may not violate state law, it would not reflect well on the department if he purchased the firearms. 

Excerpt from the May 2023 investigative report into Vincent Peters. Source: New Bedford Police Department

Donovan determined that Peters’ purchase of the guns violated seven department rules, including the use of position to gain privileges.

“Irrespective of the counsel received from his superiors, Officer Peters had received training and instruction on the Conflict of Interest Law and should have been aware that his actions were improper and unethical,” Donovan wrote. 

Police report and video tell different stories

Concurrently last fall, the department’s internal investigators questioned Peters on an incident involving his use of force.

On a July afternoon last year, Peters responded to the Blue Meadows public housing complex to provide assistance on a Department of Children and Families call. A 17-year-old male rode his bike down the street — a public way — and turned in front of a police cruiser, video shows. 

A few moments later, he came to a stop in front of a police officer, identified by investigators as Peters, standing near the sidewalk. 

The teen, still seated on the bike, backed away from Peters and threw one of his arms up in the air. The two appeared to exchange words. Peters walked to the teen and grabbed the bike from under him. Moments later, Peters went to handcuff him.

The teen appeared to resist. Peters’ partner on the scene, Officer Justin Costa, stepped in. In the video, the three become partially obstructed from view behind a truck as they all move toward the ground.

YouTube video

“At some point the male tried to ride pas[t] me, going through the barrier and close in on DCF at which point I placed my foot in the [bike’s] path stopping his approach. at which point he became verbally aggressive, swearing and threatening,” Peters wrote in his 2022 report. 

Peters’ narrative of the incident tells a different story, stating that the teen threw his own bike to the ground. 

“He then became more and more upset and thr[ew] his bike to the ground and propped himself to a combat stance at which point I grabbed his right arm performing an arm bar then sweeping his right leg while maintaining his fall to reduce injury during impact,” he continued. “The male remained aggressive for several minutes at which point I placed him in handcuffs/double-locked and placed him in the back of my cruiser for both his and my safety.”

The teen’s mother arrived, told police he had emotional issues, and asked that he be released, which he was, according to Peters. 

Internal investigators interviewed Peters in fall 2022. Months later, in April and May, Donovan interviewed Peters and Costa. During those interviews, Peters agreed that aspects of his report were not accurate. 

Under state law, “Untruthfulness is considered prohibited conduct, and is among the many reasons why an officer’s certification may be revoked,” said a spokesperson for the state Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission. The commission reviews misconduct cases of police officers and has the authority to decertify them. 

Donovan concluded that while the teen was verbally aggressive and threatened Peters, the information Peters included in his report was embellished and “deliberately mischaracterized.” 

“Police officers are highly trained professionals who are often the subject of verbal attacks,” Donovan wrote. He found that Peters’ report contained “falsified facts” and was written with the “specific, self-serving intent to justify using force to place the juvenile suspect” in handcuffs.  

Peters told Donovan that a superior had instructed him to alter his report on the use of force, but when asked who instructed him to do that, he said he didn’t “quite know” who reviewed it, according to Donovan. 

Asked about the discrepancies between the video and his report, Peters told Donovan that the teen’s flexed arms suggested he was prepared to fight. 

“He flexed, and he was letting me know that there’s nothing we can do that’s gonna change his mind,” Peters told Donovan, according to interview transcripts.  

Under Massachusetts law, officers must not use force unless all de-escalation tactics have been attempted and failed, or are otherwise not feasible. 

Donovan stated he was only tasked with investigating the discrepancies in Peters’ report, not whether Peters’ use of force was legal. At one point, though, he wrote: “These circumstances would demand a thorough investigation by a supervisor to ensure that proper procedures were followed and that probable cause justified the actions taken by Officer Peters.”

Asked by the Light if anyone reviewed Peters’ use of force for legality or appropriateness, Oliveira did not respond. 

A lengthy investigation

Months went by before the department opened an investigation into Peters’ purchase of firearms or use of force.

In October 2022, a lieutenant submitted a letter to a captain in the department, outlining concerns about Peters’ alleged purchase of firearms and his conduct regarding the use of force on the 17-year-old (and the discrepancy between Peters’ report and a video of the incident). 

Two days after the lieutenant submitted the memo, the department opened a formal investigation. In October and November 2022, officers in the department’s internal affairs unit conducted interviews with Peters, officers, witnesses, and the people from whom Peters had purchased the firearms. Investigators within the department also questioned Peters about the use of force incident.

The lead investigator submitted a summary of his investigation, titled “Investigative Conclusion,” to his supervisor, then-Lt. Robert Holmes, Peters’ “friend.” (It’s unclear when this happened. The summary memo is dated Oct. 26, 2022, but includes interviews through November.)

Per the department’s complaint policy, the division commander must review the investigator’s findings and forward his or her conclusions to the deputy chief for approval. Then it goes to the police chief for review and a final signature of approval. 

Excerpt from NBPD complaint review policy. Source: New Bedford Police Department

It’s unclear whether this happened in the Peters case. The Light asked Holmes by email what actions he, as internal affairs supervisor, took after receiving the summary report from the internal investigator. He did not respond. 

He may have recused himself from the investigation due to a conflict of interest. During the interview of Sgt. Williams about the firearms (in which Holmes was one of the questioners, per records), Williams said Holmes had also been part of a conversation with Peters about the ethics of purchasing the guns off duty. 

Peters told Donovan in a separate interview that Holmes was present during a conversation about the firearms. 

Several times during Williams’ interview in November, Holmes said he did not recall the conversation: “I wouldn’t be sitting here if I was involved.”

Donovan stated that Holmes withdrew himself from the investigation after being “advised of” his prior participation during the interview.

Holmes, contacted by phone, said he could not comment on the investigation. He did not reply to emailed questions. 

Questions remain

Four months passed between the internal and external investigations into Peters, police records suggest.

The Light submitted several public records requests, starting in late March, for the internal investigative report on Peters and related records. 

Donovan’s investigative reports, recently released to the Light, date no investigative activities between the November interviews and Donovan’s interview of Peters in late April. 

Donovan wrote that Oliveira asked him to collaborate with the department’s internal investigators on the use of force investigation, and to review the investigation on the purchase of firearms, but did not state when. 

The Light asked Donovan when Oliveira assigned him the Peters case. He said by phone this week that he wasn’t in his office at the moment, so he could not say. He did not respond to a follow-up email asking when he was assigned to the case. Oliveira did not respond to questions about when he or the department assigned Donovan to the case. 

The Jensen Hughes report, issued this month, described a “problematic” situation in the department regarding the length of its investigations into complaints against officers.

According to NBPD complaint data, some internal investigations have lasted from months to more than a year before being closed.

“The current practice of investigating complaints filed against officers, whether from inside the department or outside, often takes a long time to complete,” the report states. “Police officers who are the object of the complaint are left hanging for long periods of time without knowing the status of the investigation. This situation is both problematic for those who file complaints and the officers involved.”

Jensen Hughes said the city should review the status of all complaints monthly, and establish and follow time standards for the complaint investigation process.

Some time standards are established in existing department policy: complaints investigated within the professional standards division must be completed within 90 days. 

There is a caveat, though. If an investigation requires more time, the division commander “shall advise, and obtain approval in writing” from the police chief or his designee. (In response to a records request for written approval for an extension, the city said NBPD did not have any records.) 

The complaint policy lacks guidelines for when department leadership should act on a completed investigation. For instance, no guideline establishes a timeline by which the chief must issue a determination and, if warranted, discipline.

Further, the policy establishes that the chief may “waive any time limit … in the event of unusual circumstances or conditions.” 

Though Donovan made his findings in May, according to his reports, the investigation was still “pending” in early July when the Light inquired about its status, according to an NBPD spokesperson.

In July, Mayor Jon Mitchell issued a letter to Peters communicating that he was contemplating his termination, records state. In an August 10 letter, Mitchell notified Peters of his termination. (Officers can appeal their discipline, including termination, to the state’s Civil Service Commission.)

The Light contacted Peters with questions and for comment; he did not respond.  

The Light requested an interview with Oliveira to discuss the investigation, but he declined through an NBPD spokesperson, citing it as a personnel issue.

Oliveira did not respond to several emailed questions, including about what happened in the months between internal affairs conducting its interviews and Donovan conducting his, and whether current policy sets any time standards for the chief’s review and approval of complaint investigations. 

On Wednesday, he issued a statement to the Light by email: “As the Chief of Police, it is my responsibility to maintain a balance between providing information and respecting the complexities involved in employee discipline and termination. Various mechanisms are in place, including civil service procedures, the collective bargaining agreement, and modern labor practices, to ensure that these matters follow proper due process.”

The city’s personnel office declined to comment, stating it was a confidential personnel matter. 

Email Anastasia E. Lennon at

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