A Baltimore police officer identified as Richard Pinheiro has been suspended after his own body-camera recording shows him planting drugs at the scene of an arrest in January.
The video, shows Richard Pinheiro placing a plastic bag of white capsules inside a can in an alley while two other officers watch. He can then be seen walking back toward the street, at which point he appears to turn on his body camera before announcing that he is going to “check the alley”.
Little did the officer know that the body cameras used by the Baltimore Police Department retain recordings beginning 30 seconds before the cameras are switched on, without audio. Well, now they do.
A suspected drug dealer was arrested on charges including felony possession with an intent to distribute drugs during the January incident. Those charges were dropped last week.
Debbie Katz Levi, director of special litigation for the Office of the Public Defender in Baltimore city, said even with knowledge of the video state prosecutors still called on Officer Pinheiro to testify as a witness in a different court case on Monday. “They essentially did nothing and were willing to subject somebody else to imprisonment, without disclosing at all,” she said.
At a news conference on Thursday, Marilyn J. Mosby, Baltimore’s state’s attorney, said the prosecutor working on this case became aware of the problematic footage late on June 12 and notified his supervisor early the next morning, setting in motion a process that included a thorough review of 10 different video clips from the January incident.
At the news conference, Deputy Commissioner Jason Johnson shared three additional videos from the Jan. 24 incident explaining that officers had been patrolling an area known for drug deals and had observed an interaction that appeared to involve an exchange of illicit drugs between a buyer and a seller. The additional videos appear to show officers stopping both suspects and recovering illicit drugs from each. Commissioner Davis acknowledged that the fourth video — the one that appears to show the officer planting evidence before returning to the spot and finding it — could have been an attempt to re-enact an event that had already occurred off camera. Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said that the footage, at first glance, seemed to show activities that were “inconsistent with the way police officers do business,” even if it were a re-enactment.
One officer has been suspended and two more have been placed on administrative duty, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said during a news conference on Wednesday. He did not specify which officer had been suspended, and he did not name any of the officers under investigation.
“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.”
“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.”
“I’m convinced we’re going to get to the bottom of it,” he added. “If evidence was planted, we’ll certainly take assertive action if that’s the case.”
Baltimore is reviewing 100 cases after video leaks appearing to show police planting drug evidence