New body cam footage has emerged that shows police officers in Baltimore working together to plant evidence at a supposed crime scene, according to the Baltimore Office of the Public Defender (OPD). The clip comes out just weeks after a different video was released showing a different group of officers also fabricating evidence.
The newest video to be released depicts shows a November traffic stop. Officers search the car for drugs but find nothing, and the cameras go off. When they are turned back on, an officer is seen squatting next to the open car door. He stands up and walks back. Less than a minute later, another officer walks over and also squats over and pulls out a bag of drugs that does not appear to have been there before.
Seven officers were at the traffic stop at the time of the incident. The case was dismissed for “suspected police misconduct,” OPD stated.
“The credibility of those officers has now been directly called into question,” Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said at a news conference on Friday. “As I have stated before, it is incumbent upon us as prosecutors to be the ministers of justice, and to do what’s right in the pursuit of justice, over convictions, while simultaneously prioritizing public safety.”
The previously seen footage is from January and shows one officer appearing to manipulate evidence. As two other officers look on, the first one places a bag of white capsules in a can. All three officers then exit the alley and enter again seconds later, and at this time the audio starts recording.
“I’m gonna do a check here,” the first officer says, as if he had not been in the alley seconds before. The officers then walk right back to where they had just been standing, and the first officer picks up the soda can and pulls out drugs.
The body cams automatically record events that take place 30 seconds before they are activated, but without audio. So the officers may have been unaware that the incident was being recorded before they entered the alley for a second time.
The officer seen allegedly planting the evidence was identified by the OPD as Officer Richard Pinheiro. Pinheiro, who was suspended, was a witness in about 53 other active cases, OPD added. The other two officers in the video, Officers Hovhannes Simonyan and Jamal Brunson, were placed on administrative duty, according to media outlets.
Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department reached a reform agreement with Baltimore’s police department. But in April, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered a review of previous police reform agreements to ensure they align with the new administration’s principles, suggesting reform may not be necessary.
As of Wednesday, 41 cases have been dropped or will be dropped, and more than 100 are now under review because they involve the officers seen in the footage, according to the New York Times.
The controversy led to an odd memo from Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, who asked his staff to leave their body cams on for the entire duration they are searching a scene — and requested that his officers do not fabricate evidence.
“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 memo states.
Davis also called on the public to wait until any investigations are complete before making assumptions.
“I think it’s irresponsible to jump to a conclusion that the police officers were engaged in criminal misconduct. That’s a heavy allegation to make,” he said to reporters.
The police also released additional video footage from earlier that day indicating that the officers had found drugs in that yard earlier in the day. According to the Baltimore Sun, “Davis said investigators are looking into whether the later video was a re-enactment of a drug discovery, but had not come to any conclusions.”
However, the Baltimore Police Department has a spotty past. A Justice Department report released last summer found that Blacks in Baltimore were subjected to traffic stops, arrests and excessive force more frequently than their white counterparts.
According to the report, an analysis of 300,000 pedestrian stops (the number is probably even greater, the report notes, due to underreporting) over a five-year period found an embedded practice of racism.
“BPD made roughly 44 percent of its stops in two small, predominantly African-American districts that contain only 11 percent of the City’s population,” the report states.
And Black residents were more likely to be searched during pedestrian and traffic stops (they were also more likely to be stopped in the first place) — yet they were less likely to have contraband: “BPD officers found contraband twice as often when searching white individuals compared to African Americans during vehicle stops and 50 percent more often during pedestrian stops.”
Despite a pattern documented by his own office under the previous administration, Sessions in his memo from April suggested that “individual bad actors” could be responsible, as opposed to systemic racism taking place.
“It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies,” Sessions wrote. “The misdeeds of individual bad actors should not impugn or undermine the legitimate and honorable work that law enforcement officers and agencies perform in keeping American communities safe.”