Police and prosecutors in Baltimore are investigating following the release of body camera footage that the public defender’s office says shows an officer planting drugs.
The footage, released by the public defender’s office Wednesday, July 19, was recorded by an officer during a drug arrest in January, The Baltimore Sun reported. It shows the officer placing an empty soup can, which contains a plastic baggie, into a trash-strewn vacant lot.
That portion of the video was recorded automatically, thanks to a special police body cam feature that saves the first 30 seconds of footage before an officer activates their camera. After planting the can, the officer walks back to the street and turns on his device.
“I’m gonna go check here,” the officer is heard saying before he returns to the lot, recovers the soup can and removes a plastic bag filled with white pills.
Baltimore police confirmed that one officer has been suspended while two others have been place on administrative duty. The public defender’s office identified the cop in the video as Officer Richard Pinheiro, who was hired by the department in 2011.
Police said they have not reached any conclusions about the actions depicted in the video but noted that other cases involving Pinheiro and the two officers are now under review.
The Baltimore Sun reported that the public defender’s office notified prosecutors of the questionable video last week, prompting them to dismiss the heroin possession charge against the man arrested that day. Attorney Deborah Levi, who has been helping track police misconduct cases for the public defender’s office, said the man had been in jail since January because he was unable to post $50,000 bail.
Levi blasted prosecutors for calling Pinheiro as a witness in another case just days after they were alerted to the footage. She claimed prosecutors failed to disclose the officer’s misconduct to the defense attorney in that particular case.
“You can’t try a case with that guy and not tell anyone about it,” Levi said.
The Baltimore city state’s attorney’s office stood by its handling of the case, however, saying that after it was notified of the video, it “immediately implemented established protocols to not only refer this matter to the internal affairs division of the Baltimore Police Department but began identifying active cases involving these officers.”
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said his department only learned of the video in the past few days, adding that it hadn’t reached any conclusions yet. Davis said he’d rather wait for authorities to conclude their investigation.
“To let that initial video that was released by the public defender’s office stand all by its lonesome, I think, does not paint as clear of a picture as we would like to offer to the community right now,” he said.
Davis also noted that police are investigating whether the footage flagged by the public defender’s office shows Pinheiro “re-creating” his discovery of an alleged second, un-knotted bag of drugs.
“It’s certainly a possibility that we’re looking into, to see if the officers in fact replaced drugs that they’d already discovered in order to document their discovery with their body-worn cameras on,” he told The Baltimore Sun.
The public defender’s officer has since urged the state’s attorney’s office to do more in response to the video.