During a six-day trial that concluded Wednesday, a Fall River resident named David Lafrance testified that a city policeman punched him in the face while he was being released following an argument with neighbors that police deemed unworthy of criminal charges.

The incident occurred in February 2019 and was captured on video by a surveillance camera, a piece of evidence that Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn said was essential toward securing a conviction four years later against the officer who struck Lafrance, Michael Pessoa.

“Mr. Pessoa crossed a line in his behavior that night and then he and other officers participated in a cover-up to conceal what happened,” Quinn said in an interview outside the courtroom moments after a jury found Pessoa guilty.

“Without the video tape there would have been no case,” Quinn said. “That’s how this came to light.”

During hours of testimony and cross-examination that at times flared into fiery arguments with Pessoa’s lawyer, Lafrance described in moment-to-moment detail how a routine police call escalated into a violent encounter that left him unconscious and motivated prosecutors to go after a member of a police department they work with on a daily basis to solve crimes and secure convictions.

Lafrance said Pessoa made an insulting remark about his weight while another officer was in the process of uncuffing him. Lafrance testified that when he returned the insult, Pessoa punched him in the face, temporarily rendering Lafrance unconscious while officers pounced on his back to handcuff him again.

Lafrance said he was then laid on the floor of Pessoa’s cruiser, where Pessoa punched him in the face again, causing his lip to bleed.

Back at the station later that night, at the order of a lieutenant who noticed Lafrance’s injuries, Pessoa and the three other police officers wrote their reports of the encounter together in the same room.

Copies of the reports presented at trial show officers claimed that Pessoa performed an “arm bar” takedown on Lafrance — a tactic where police grab a suspect’s arm from behind and push on their back or shoulder to fold them into a position where they can be easily handcuffed.

At trial, one of those officers, Sean Aguiar, admitted on the stand that this description was false. He testified that Pessoa left the room with their reports and returned on several occasions, claiming their supervisors would not accept the reports until they matched.

Those superiors, Sgt. Brett Kimball and Lt. John Martins, said under oath that they never gave such instructions.

Pessoa, who took the stand to defend himself after years of silence while the case was pending, said that his use of force was justified because Lafrance threatened to punch him in the face as he was being uncuffed. Pessoa said the misleading statements he and other officers included on their reports amounted to clerical errors that officers made as a “worrywart” supervisor pressured them to fill out unnecessary and confusing paperwork.

Jurors spent less than a day deliberating after hearing five days of testimony from a dozen witnesses. They found Pessoa guilty of all four criminal charges that prosecutors brought against him, including assault and battery, and filing false reports.

During closing arguments, prosecutors said the case pointed to a larger problem where police in Fall River were willing to lie to hide a fellow officer’s misconduct.

“Blue blood runs deep,” said Assistant District Attorney Gillian Kirsch. “What started out as a routine call quickly developed into a cover up. All of them would ultimately support the defendant's false narrative of that night.”

Within the past five years, the Fall River police department has been accused in several other cases of covering up instances of excessive force, including two fatal police shootings where the families of the deceased are pursuing wrongful death lawsuits. Pessoa himself has been indicted in two additional criminal cases where prosecutors claim he filed false reports to justify violent confrontations with suspects under arrest and a bystander who filmed him.

The victim in the first Pessoa case to go to trial, David Lafrance, had the rare benefit of having a video of his encounter with police. Police officers in Fall River were not equipped with body cameras at the time of Lafrance’s arrest in 2019. Lafrance’s daughter obtained the video from a relative who owns the building where the assault occurred and maintains a video surveillance system there. Jurors sided with Lafrance after seeing the soundless surveillance footage of the encounter, alongside other evidence in the case.

“Without this video,” Kirsch said during her closing argument, “who’s going to believe David Lafrance over the statements of four police officers?”

All four officers involved in Lafrance’s arrest have either resigned or been fired from the Fall River Police Department.

As the trial concluded on Wednesday, Superior Court Justice Renee Dupuis ordered Pessoa to be held in jail until his sentencing on June 7, citing the “very serious” nature of the charges for which he is convicted.

Pessoa was initially transported to the Dartmouth House of Correction, where a spokesperson for the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office said the former police officer will be held in a setting isolated from other inmates or transferred to another county jail for his protection.

“We don’t want him to be around inmates he may have arrested back in the day,” Jonathan Darling said.

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