On Thursday, the District Attorney's office of Pueblo, Colorado officially dropped felony drug and weapons possession charges against a 36-year-old man after an officer admitted to faking body camera footage of a search of his car.
In November of last year, the man's vehicle was pulled over and searched. According to police, Officer Seth Jensen found seven grams of heroin and a firearm in the car. The man was then arrested, charged and detained pending trial. After a preliminary hearing this March, however, Jensen texted Pueblo's deputy district attorney, Anne Mayer, and revealed the body cam footage submitted as evidence was staged.
Per The Pueblo Chieftain, here's the text exchange:
In the text messages, which were obtained by The Pueblo Chieftain, Mayer writes, "You'll have to watch your body cam before the motions to make sure the report and camera are the same."
Jensen replied back, saying, "For the search, the body cam shows different than the report because it was. Prior to turning my body cam on I conducted the search. Once I found the (expletive referring to evidence), I stepped back, called (a fellow officer), then activated my body cam and walked the courts through it."
Mayer then replied back, "Was that in the report? If not you've got to write a supplement explaining that your body cam was off during the search and that the body cam that does exist is a reenactment."
Jensen admits to searching the car before ever turning on his body camera. Once he found the weapon and trace amounts of heroin, Jensen claims he then called over another officer, turned on his camera, and reenacted the search.
In a letter to the The Pueblo Chieftain, the former suspect's attorney wrote that "all indications in the discovery and during his testimony at the preliminary hearing indicated that the body camera footage actually represented the sequence of events as they developed regarding the search". The attorney told Ars Technica Jensen sounds "surprised" in the video, which would naturally make the viewer think it was a first search. The case has been dismissed.
The Pueblo PD's body camera policy gives officers personal discretion on when to record in many situations. Policy experts generally disagree with this practice, saying police departments should clearly delineate specifically when officers can and can't record. Jensen is currently being investigated to see if his actions violated Pueblo PD's policy.