On Tuesday, the Baltimore Public Defender’s Office released footage it says shows officers planting drugs and staging their discovery for body cameras, the second such video to be released in the last two weeks. Prosecutors have now dropped more than 40 felony cases that relied on testimony from the officers seen in the videos.
Screenshot: Baltimore Police/Baltimore Sun
“In light of recent events, you are reminded to activate your body worn camera at the initiation of a call for service or other activity that is investigative or enforcement-related (e.g., crime scene, car stop, or pedestrian stop). If you are on-scene where a search for evidence or property inventory is being conducted, your body worn camera shall remain activated until you leave the scene so as to capture all of the circumstances surrounding the recovery of evidence,” Davis wrote.
“In the event your body worn camera is not activated during the recovery of evidence, under no circumstances shall you attempt to recreate the recovery of evidence after re-activating your body worn camera.”
The video made public Tuesday depicts a November traffic stop during which officers arrested a woman for drug possession, claiming they recovered heroin and marijuana from her car. Footage, however, reveals the officers turned their body cameras off for 30 minutes during the stop (without explanation) before turning them back on, a violation of the department’s policy.
In one officer’s video, timestamped around 11:50PM, he searches the driver’s seat of the woman’s car, finding nothing. In another video, timestamped around 12:20AM, a second officer suggests searching the same driver’s seat and immediately finds a baggie of drugs. The officers did not explain the 30-minute gap in footage. The charges against the woman have been dismissed and her attorney, Josh Insley, says he plans to pursue legal action against the department.
Last week, a similar video of Baltimore police serendipitously “discovering” drugs was released, showing Officer Richard Pinheiro planting a baggie of pills into a soup can, then turning on his camera (unaware it had saved the prior 30 seconds of footage) and recovering the drugs he’d just planted in the can.
Pinheiro is suspended pending an investigation and 55 cases are being reviewed because of the involvement of cops seen in either of the two videos. If the police commissioner himself has to warn against misusing body cameras to fake evidence, the issue may be more systematic than the department cares to admit.