The Abington school resource officer connected with a police scandal in Stoughton that drew nationwide attention resigned from his job earlier this year during the middle of an internal investigation.
The Abington investigation determined that Officer Joshua Heal was not a credible witness and less than forthright in his conversations with Stoughton and Abington officials. However, it did not uncover any allegations of inappropriate relationships or communications stemming from his time with the Abington Police Department.
Town leaders, acting on the advice of their attorneys, kept Heal’s resignation quiet, even from other senior town officials.
“I’ve been told nothing,” Superintendent Peter Schafer said when asked about Heal’s resignation. “I was completely unaware.”
Heal, who served as one of Abington’s school resource officers and as a comfort dog handler, submitted his resignation this past February ahead of a scheduled interview with internal investigators. He had been on administrative leave since September 2022, when he was included in an explosive report that found multiple Stoughton police officers had inappropriate sexual relationships with a woman starting when she was a teenager. The woman, Sandra Birchmore, took her own life in 2021 in her Canton apartment. She was three months pregnant at the time of her death; one of the Stoughton officers was allegedly the father.
Prior to becoming an Abington police officer in 2019, Heal was the Stoughton Police Department’s Animal Control Officer. He was twice interviewed by Stoughton investigators as part of their inquiry into Birchmore first in December 2021 and again in February 2022.
A report filed by Allen Consulting Services, which conducted the internal investigation on Abington’s behalf, concluded there was “sufficient credible evidence” Heal broke department rules governing proper officer conduct by failing to be “truthful, fully cooperative and/or forthcoming” during the initial Stoughton investigation and his subsequent interactions with Abington Police leadership. The findings mean Heal could have faced decertification as a police officer under the state’s new police reform law.
Lambiase said Heal officially left the town’s payroll in March and the town’s labor attorneys, Clifford & Kenny, LLP, recommended against making any public statements about the departure.
“It had pretty much died out at that point,” Lambiase said, referring to the intense attention the case received when first revealed nearly a year ago. A national true crime podcast did an entire episode on Heal’s connect to the Birchmore case.
Abington’s Board of Selectmen were briefed on Heal’s departure during a closed door session this past spring.
Current Board of Selectmen Chairman Alex Hagerty referred a question about the decison to keep the departure quiet to Lambiase.
Schafer said the school department has not received any reports of Heal acting inappropriately with any Abington students. Abington’s investigators interviewed 10 school leaders — six of whom are women — and none reported any concerns about Heal’s behavior with female students or anyone in the school community.
Schafer said he remains supportive of the school system’s relationship with the Abington Police Department and praised their current roster of school resource officers.
“The collaboration that occurs and the sharing of information between the schools and SROs is productive and provides us with as safe a learning environment as possible,” he said.
School Committee Chairman Chris Coyle said he also wasn’t aware that Heal had resigned, but was satisfied knowing Abington brass removed him as a school resource officer last year when the allegations became known.
Coyle is also supportive of the department’s current school resource officers.
“The interactions with Officers [James] White, [Gladys] Morgan, and of course Harlow, that I have seen are all extremely positive,” he said. “I’m confident this will continue with them, as well as Officer Francis joining the team.”
Harlow is Heal’s former comfort dog. It has since been reassigned to Morgan’s care.
Heal was not included on the initial POST Commission report, which details the disciplinary reports of active police officers.
Extent Of Relationship Unclear
Though documents provided to Abington News by the town reveal details about the Stoughton scandal and the ensuing investigation, they are heavily redacted in spots and provide little detail about the extent of Heal’s relationship with Birchmore.
Heal told Stoughton investigators that Birchmore adopted a cat from the shelter around 2019 and then would occasionally come by to see the shelter’s dogs and cats. While there, she would tell Heal details about her relationships with the other Stoughton police officers, including sharing photos and videos, according to interview transcripts. Heal testified Birchmore seemed to need to “vent.”
There is some evidence that suggests their relationship became more than platonic at least once. Investigators for the Stoughton Police Department asked Heal during both interviews if he had “engaged” in certain behaviors with Birchmore. The exact type of behavior is redacted. During his first interview, Heal said no. During his second interview, Heal admitted something happened one time between he and Birchmore inside the animal shelter after hours. Exactly what happened is redacted in the transcripts included with the Abington report.
What ever happened was serious enough for Stoughton Deputy Chief Holmes to tell Abington Police Chief David Del Papa in August 2022 that “he did not think he would want Heal around children,” according to the Abington report.
However, there is no evidence given in the publicly available sections of the report that Heal had any inappropriate relationships or contact with underage girls, and Abington officials are not aware of any additional allegations of inappropriate behavior during his time on the Abington Police Department.
Report Says Abington Kept In Dark
Del Papa, who started as Abington Police Chief in August 2021, was made aware in December 2021 that investigators for Stoughton wanted to interview Heal as a possible witness in the Birchmore case. Del Papa asked Stoughton Deputy Chief Brian Holmes at the time whether Heal, who was hired and named school resource officer before Del Papa became chief, should be pulled off active duty. Holmes told Del Papa at the time that wasn’t necessary, that Heal was just a material witness.
Holmes told Heal during his second interview that because Birchmore had confided so much to him, that Stoughton investigators, who were wading through volumes of digital messages, were hoping Heal could “connect some dots.”
“The text messages are overwhelming,” Paul L’Italien, a retired state police investigator hired by Stoughton, told Heal, according to a transcript. “All over the map. Tons of information.”
Heal responded saying he didn’t feel like a witness, rather he felt like he was being “interrogated.”
The report says Del Papa asked Heal after the first interview why he was declining to be interviewed further by the Stoughton team. The reasons Heal gave are redacted. However, after Del Papa told Heal police department policies and procedures require him to cooperate, Heal later agreed to sit for the second interview.
Around this time, Holmes offered to share more specifics about the case with Del Papa if he signed a non-disclosure agreement. However, Del Papa balked saying he had never been asked by another law enforcement agency to sign a non-disclosure before discussing a case in his 26-year career.
Del Papa said Stoughton gave him no indication between December 2021 and September 2022 that Heal was no longer just a witness but now suspected of misconduct.
Later, during the Sept. 20, 2022 meeting between Del Papa and Holmes, the Stoughton Deputy Chief also told Del Papa they considered Heal a non-credible witness, according to the Abington findings. Del Papa again wondered why he hadn’t been told about this sooner, the report says.
Heal was off duty Sept. 21 and 22, so Del Papa said he took the weekend to read over the unredacted Stoughton report. On Monday morning, Sept. 23, Lambiase called Del Papa to tell him a copy of the Stoughton report given to the media ahead of a scheduled press conference had neglected to redact Heal’s name in one instance and mentioned the Abington Town Hall interview. Del Papa called Heal into his office and told him he was being placed on leave.
Lambiase and Hagerty both said they support Del Papa’s handling of the issue.
“I want to express my gratitude to Police Chief David Del Papa for his professionalism and diligence throughout the matter,” Hagerty said.
Lambiase said he is not aware whether Heal is facing any potential criminal charges. The three Stoughton police officers have not been charged with a crime in the Birchmore case.