In November, Fall River police officer Nicholas Hoar appeared in federal court to deny charges of filing false reports that allegedly covered up a beating he gave to a suspect outside the city’s police station.

It was not the first time Hoar has been accused of excessive force. Since following his brother into the department in 2016, Hoar, a fifth-generation Fall River policeman, had been exonerated by local authorities in five other excessive force investigations, until a suspect brought this latest complaint to the FBI.

Now, as the federal case triggers a closer examination of Hoar’s credibility, one family is hoping the FBI will investigate another case from Hoar’s past: the fatal shooting of 19-year-old Larry Ruiz Barreto.

The shooting, which continues to fuel protests in Fall River more than five years later, occurred just before midnight on Nov. 12, 2017, when Hoar was breaking up a car race for the second night in a row.

Hoar was summoned to an industrial park on the outskirts of Fall River after a 911 caller reported potential gunfire there. Upon his arrival, however, Hoar later told investigators that it seemed like a typical street race. The caller had mistaken the sound of an engine backfiring for gunshots.

Then, just sixteen seconds after Hoar said “street racers again” into his police radio, another transmission went out announcing “shots fired.”

Hoar had fired six rounds into a car driven by Larry Ruiz Barreto, fatally injuring the 19-year-old amid a crowd of friends and relatives fleeing the car race.

Conflicting accounts

Since there were no body camera or cell phone videos of the shooting, investigators pieced together their narrative of what happened from conflicting statements provided by the eyewitnesses.

The two police officers, Nicholas Hoar and Allen Correiro, told investigators from the Bristol County District Attorney’s office that Larry drove his car straight into Hoar’s legs. They said the collision knocked him onto the hood of Larry’s car, where Hoar drew his weapon and eventually shot Larry six times in an alleged act of self-defense.

The district attorney, Thomas Quinn III, accepted the police officers’ account of the shooting and cleared Hoar of wrongdoing, despite conflicting accounts from six civilians who witnessed the shooting as well.

During separate interviews, each of those civilian eyewitnesses told investigators that they never saw Larry’s car crash into Hoar.

Larry’s father, Dimex Ruiz Hernandez, who watched the shooting unfold from the back seat of Larry’s car, said Officer Hoar already had his gun drawn when he stepped out of his cruiser. Ruiz Hernandez said Hoar opened fire after Larry reached for the stick shift.

“When he put the car in park, the cop tapped the windshield with the gun two times and fired two shots,” Ruiz Hernandez said in Spanish during an interview with The Public’s Radio this winter that has been translated. He said Hoar then took a few steps back and shot Larry four more times.

An alleged cover up

Ruiz Hernandez claims that Hoar’s family connections within the police department and Fall River’s city hall led to a compromised investigation of Larry’s death. An attorney for Nicholas Hoar did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.

“They covered up the case since his brother works in internal investigations,” Ruiz Hernandez said. “The father is an important person in the police department and he helped his son.”

At different stages in their careers, Hoar’s brother and father have both worked in the division of Fall River’s police department that handles internal investigations into misconduct, but neither worked there at the time of Larry Ruiz Barreto’s death, according to a spokesperson for the Fall River Police Department.

Hoar’s father, a former police sergeant named Michael Hoar, had recently stepped down as then-mayor Jasiel Correia's chief of staff.

An initial police report from the night of Larry’s death lists Hoar’s brother, James T. Hoar, as an “emergency response official” who is relevant to the case.

Ruiz Hernandez said that the scene of the shooting must have been rearranged during the four hours that elapsed before investigators began photographing evidence. The pictures, which are digitally timestamped, show Larry’s car in a collision with a police cruiser that civilian witnesses do not recall happening.

A spokesperson for the Fall River Police Department declined to comment on Ruiz Hernandez’s accusations. The department also declined to authorize the officers involved in the investigation to speak with the media.

A key witness says he was misquoted

In the final report that justified Hoar’s lethal use of force, District Attorney Quinn wrote that a third passenger in Larry’s car, Eusebio Famania, corroborated Officer Hoar’s account of needing to shoot in self-defense.

Famania, who knew Larry’s father because they both ran auto repair businesses in New Bedford, remembered the shooting differently than the other civilian eyewitnesses who spoke to investigators. He was the only civilian who remembered Larry’s car moving at all.

Famania told investigators that Larry drove slowly in Hoar’s direction. Famania thought it was an attempt to get the officer to move out of Larry’s way by “nudging” him.

But Famania told The Public’s Radio that the district attorney’s report went on to twist the meaning of his words. Famania claimed he was clear with investigators that Officer Hoar never got knocked onto the hood of Larry’s car.

In the following exchange from an interview the morning after the shooting, investigators pressed Famania on whether Larry’s car made contact with Officer Hoar at all.

Fall River Police Sgt. Thomas Mauretti: Did the officer have to brace himself at all?

Famania: No, I don’t believe so.

State Police Sgt. Christopher Dolan: And at no time, did you see any of his body — hands, legs, upper body —on top of Larry’s hood of his car because he’s pushing him back? Did he fall or anything on it?

Famania: No, actually he shot. He ended up pushing back — he ended up, like, taking a step back and then.

Sgt. Dolan: Taking a step back?

Famania: Yeah.

The district attorney’s report concluded that it was Larry’s “nudging” that “resulted in the officer being taken off of his feet and causing him to be knocked onto the hood of the car.”

“Mr. Famania’s own observations corroborate the defendant’s intention not to end the threat to the officer’s life,” the report said.

Bringing new evidence before a jury

The district attorney’s office declined to comment on the investigation or respond to questions about whether it would reopen the case in light of Hoar’s recent charges.

Asked whether the FBI might revisit the case on its own, a spokesperson for the bureau cited a policy of neither confirming nor denying the existence of an investigation.

For now, the family of Larry Ruiz-Barreto is relying on a wrongful death lawsuit as a way to revisit evidence that their lawyers say the DA overlooked. The lawsuit, filed in Boston’s federal court, seeks damages of $34 million for Larry’s death and a subsequent physical altercation with police at the hospital that injured several family members.

James Lyons, a researcher working with the family’s legal team, said a video captured by a surveillance camera in the industrial park the night of Larry’s death could swing the case in their favor.

The video, though taken from too far away to distinguish any bodies or silhouettes, offers a blurry view of headlights and police lights as the shooting unfolds.

“You can see Larry’s car never moved. Not an inch,” Lyons said. “That video is a smoking gun.”

If the lawsuit goes to trial, Lyons said an expert witness will walk a jury through the video. And at the end of that trial, which could still be years away, the jury will make another attempt at determining the truth of what happened to Larry Ruiz-Barreto.

Ben Berke is the South Coast Bureau Reporter for The Public’s Radio. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @BenBerke6.