Maryland’s Office of the Public Defender said in a statement on Wednesday that an assistant public defender first brought the video to the attention of state prosecutors last week. It added that “the officers involved are still witnesses in other active cases that are currently being pursued for prosecution in Baltimore City Circuit Court. The officer whose camera shows him planting the drugs, Officer Richard Pinheiro, is a witness in approximately 53 active cases.”
Efforts to reach Officer Pinheiro by phone and through the Police Department on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Debbie Katz Levi, director of special litigation for the Office of the Public Defender in Baltimore city, said in a phone interview that knowledge of the video did not stop state prosecutors from calling 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.
An assistant state’s attorney involved with the case referred questions to Melba Saunders, a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office. She did not respond immediately to requests for comment, but she told The Baltimore Sun that the prosecutor in the case “took immediate and appropriate actions by dropping the case and alerting his supervisor.”
While the Baltimore Police Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility investigates the episode, 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.”
At the news conference, Deputy Commissioner Jason Johnson shared three additional videos from the Jan. 24 episode. He explained 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.
“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.”
But he 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.
“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.”