Charges against a suspect accused of a drug deal were dropped when Maryland’s Office of the Public Defender released a video that appeared to show a Baltimore police officer planting drugs at the scene of the arrest.
The video appeared to show two officers watching a third officer put a plastic bag with white capsules into an alley garbage can. The third officer then walked away from the garbage can and turned on his body camera as he says he is going to check the alley. The camera then recorded the officer checking the alley and finding the bag.
The camera picked up the officer placing the plastic bag in the garbage can because the Baltimore Police Department’s body cameras retain activities that occur for 30 seconds prior to the camera being switched on.
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The Maryland’s Office of the Public Defender released a statement noting, “the officers involved are still witnesses in other active cases that are currently being pursued for prosecution in Baltimore City Circuit Court. The officer whose camera shows him planting the drugs, Officer Richard Pinheiro, is a witness in approximately 53 active cases.”
Debbie Katz Levi, from the Office of the Public Defender in Baltimore, was concerned that two days prior to the release of the video, Pinheiro testified in a different case. “They essentially did nothing and were willing to subject somebody else to imprisonment, without disclosing at all,” she said.
A spokesperson for the state’s attorney office said when the prosecutor in the case saw the video he immediately alerted his supervisor and the charges were dropped.
At a press conference, the Baltimore Police Department’s Commissioner Kevin Davis said that one officer was suspended and the two other officers were placed on administrative duty while the Office of Professional Responsibility investigated.
“This is a serious allegation of police misconduct,” Commissioner Davis said. “There’s nothing that deteriorates the trust of any community more than thinking for one second that uniformed police officers, or police officers in general, would plant evidence of crimes on citizens. That’s as serious as it gets.”
Deputy Commissioner Jason Johnson presented three other videos at the press conference. These videos seemed to show the officers stopping two suspects who each had drugs. Davis explained that it was possible the officer, in the previously released video that suggested drugs were planted, was re-enacting what happened when his body camera was off.
“It’s certainly a possibility that we’re looking into to see if the officers in fact replaced drugs that they had already discovered in order to document their discovery with their body-worn cameras on,” he said. “That’s certainly a consideration.”
Davis acknowledged that the released video was inconsistent with how officers should do their jobs, even if the officer was re-enacting events.
He reassured attendees at the press conference that they would “get to the bottom of it” and noted, “If evidence was planted, we’ll certainly take assertive action if that’s the case.”