(TNS) — Police and prosecutors in Baltimore have launched investigations after being alerted to body camera footage that the public defender’s office says shows an officer planting drugs.
One officer has been suspended and two others have been placed on administrative duty, police said. Police said they have not reached any conclusions as to the conduct depicted in the video. Other cases in which the officers are involved are now under review as well, police and prosecutors said.
The public defender’s office, which released the footage, said it was recorded by an officer during a drug arrest in January. It shows the officer placing a soup can, which holds a plastic bag, into a trash-strewn lot.
That portion of the footage was recorded automatically, before the officer activated the camera. After placing the can, the officer walks to the street, and flips his camera on.
“I’m gonna go check here,” the officer says. He returns to the lot and picks up the soup can, removing the plastic bag, which is filled with white capsules.
Police cameras have a feature that saves the 30 seconds of video before activation, but without audio. When the officer is first in the alley, there is no audio for the first 30 seconds.
The public defender’s office flagged the video for prosecutors last week, prompting prosecutors to drop the heroin possession charge against the man arrested.
The man, unable to post $50,000 bail, had been in jail since January, according to attorney Deborah Levi, who is leading a new effort to track police misconduct cases for the public defender’s office.
Levi said prosecutors called the officer just days later as a witness in another case — without disclosing the allegations of misconduct on the officer’s part to the defense attorney in that case.
“You can’t try a case with that guy and not tell anyone about it,” Levi said.
The Baltimore state’s attorney’s office defended its handling of the case in a statement late Wednesday. After being alerted to the video, the office said, 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.”
It did not dispute Levi’s claim that prosecutors had put the officer back on the stand in another criminal case after being alerted to the video.
Melba Saunders, a spokeswoman for the office, said prosecutors are looking into the video, which she called “troubling.” The office did not respond to questions about the case and its handling of it.
The footage, which garnered national attention Wednesday, comes as prosecutors and police continue to deal with the fallout from the federal indictment of seven members of an elite police gun squad.
Those officers are accused of robbing citizens, filing false court paperwork and claiming overtime they had not earned.
Prosecutors have since dropped dozens of cases that depended on those officers’ testimony.
The officer in the body camera footage was identified by the public defender’s office as Officer Richard Pinheiro.
Pinheiro could not be reached for comment Wednesday. City records show he was hired by the department in 2011, and in 2016 earned a salary of $62,676, with a net income of $67,570. Officers in Baltimore routinely earn overtime pay.
Two other officers seen in the video observing Pinheiro are Officers Hovhannes Simonyan and Jamal Brunson, according to public defender and court records obtained by The Baltimore Sun.
The public defender working the case first alerted prosecutors last week, the public defender’s office said. Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said police only learned of the video “over the last day or so.”
Davis said his department has “not reached any conclusions, because that’s what an investigation is for.” But he noted — and released portions of — other body-worn camera videos from the incident in question that he said provided “other perspectives” than the one provided in the video flagged by the public defender’s office.
“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,” he said.