A police officer in Baltimore has been suspended and two of his colleagues have been placed on non-public-contact administrative duty after the public defender’s office released bodycam footage that appears to show the first officer planting drugs at a crime scene prior to making an arrest.
Police and prosecutors have launched an investigation into the Jan. 24 incident, and other cases the officers are involved in are under review as well, the Baltimore Sun reports.
The public defender’s office told the Sun that the video footage was recorded by the officer’s body camera during a drug arrest in January.
In the video, the officer can be seen holding what appears to be a soup can that contains a plastic bag full of drugs in a vacant lot full of trash. He places the can among the rubbish in the lot, then leads his fellow officers out of an alleyway and back onto the street, where he then is seen activating his body camera.
He tells his fellow officers, “I’m gonna go check here,” before going back into the lot and retrieving the soup can, taking out the plastic bag and then revealing that it is full of drugs.
The “discovery” led to one man being arrested and held for months in jail, unable to pay the $50,000 bond, according to the report.
The officer was apparently unaware that police body cameras have a feature that saves the video from 30 seconds before activation without audio.
According to the Sun, when the public defender’s office flagged the video for prosecutors last week, the heroin-possession charges against the man arrested were dropped.
The officer who allegedly planted the drugs is identified by the public defender’s office as Police Officer Richard Pinheiro, and the two other officers with him were identified as Police Officers Hovhannes Simonyan and Jamal Brunson, according to the Sun.
Pinheiro has been suspended, while Simonyan and Brunson are on non-public-contact administrative duty.
Deborah Levi, an attorney who is leading a new effort to track police misconduct for the public defender’s office, told the Sun that despite this revealing video, prosecutors called the officer in question to testify as a witness in another case, without advising those defense attorneys of the allegations of misconduct against the officer.
“You can’t try a case with that guy and not tell anyone about it,” Levi said.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Ken Davis told the Sun that police only learned of the video “over the last day or so,” and said that the department has not drawn any conclusions yet, but he also noted that other videos from the incident provided “other perspectives.”
“To let that initial video that was released by the public defender’s office stand all by its lonesome, I think, doesn’t paint as clear of a picture as we would like to offer to the community right now,” Davis said.
Davis said that the department is investigating whether or not officers were simply “re-creating” the discovery of the knotted bag of drugs at the crime scene.
David Rocah, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Maryland, told the Sun that even “a faked re-creation of officers finding the untied bag of drugs” would still be “potentially criminal” and should be a violation of police rules.
This situation is troubling for a number of reasons.
At face value, an officer setting up a scene to then be recorded by his body camera is extremely problematic and would seem to prove what we already know: There are officers who will lie and do criminal acts just to persecute everyday citizens.
We also have to consider how this works in tandem with other things that are happening in our justice system.
With U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reinstating the “adoptive forfeiture” program, what’s to stop officers all over the country from “re-creating” crime scenes and drug discoveries to pigeonhole minorities and the poor, and set them up to have their assets seized by local law enforcement?
Things like this operate in concert, and one hand washes the other. Baltimore PD’s unwillingness to admit that its officer may have indeed done a very bad thing seems to indicate that the department is much more willing to tell a tall tale in lieu of facing the truth that some of its officers are corrupt.
Let’s be real here: The U.S. Department of Justice has already told us that the Baltimore Police Department is as dirty as unwashed chitlins, so why pretend that is not the case?
And again we are faced with the “cops can never do wrong” ideology that needs to stop. Cops do wrong. They do wrong all the time, and that wrong is harmful to American citizens, who pay police officers’ salaries through tax dollars.
At what point do we start to look at the problem for what it is and attempt to fix it instead of finding ways to excuse it away?
Also? Suspended? Non-public-contact administrative duty? Fuck that. Officers Pinheiro, Simonyan and Brunson should be fired.
Read more at the Baltimore Sun.