Police Commissioner Kevin Davis has drawn a line in the sand after the release of a new police body camera video resulted in dozens of additional dropped cases, maintaining that his officers did nothing wrong.
Baltimore police released the June 14 footage (above) at a press conference today. The video shows officers arresting an alleged drug dealer, 22-year-old Tyqwon Jones, in the 2700 block of Giles Road in Southwest Baltimore. When Jones breaks free of police custody (still handcuffed) and runs away, the cops catch up with him and detain him near the site of an alleged drug stash.
Jones tells officers in the video that he ran because he already had a warrant out for his arrest. Police arrested him on charges of marijuana possession, possession of suboxone, possession with intent to distribute and second-degree escape.
As shown in later footage (also above), the officers return to the same spot two days later after Jones tells a friend on a recorded phone call to retrieve the drugs he allegedly dropped there while running away from the police. The officers find what they were looking for – a ziplocked blunt package stuffed with unspecified contraband – but one of the officers hasn’t turned his body camera on when he retrieves it from the wooded area, so he sets the evidence back down. He then activates his body cam, picks the drugs up and goes on his way. The other officers are recording, and see him grab the evidence.
Prosecutors announced earlier this week that the footage, unreleased at that point, showed “questionable activity” by the officers involved. The one who placed the drugs back on the ground notably self-reported the body camera footage to his superiors.
However, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office summarized his actions as reenacting discovery of evidence, which violates department policy and hurts an officer’s credibility at trial. As a result, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s team dropped, or is planning to drop, 43 pending cases in which the three officers at the scene were material witnesses.
Davis said today that he saw “nothing questionable” in how his officers conducted themselves. “I firmly disagree with this decision. I will not be a bystander when my police officers are doing what I, and their commanders, expect them to do in this crime fight. And it is a serious crime fight, make no mistake about that.”
He defended the discovery by describing it in simplistic terms: “The recovering police officer didn’t immediately have his camera on when he observed the packet. However, another police officer on the scene did have his camera on…that’s it.”
The police commissioner discussed the footage in context of the other two sets of videos released this month that appeared to show officers reenacting evidence discovery or, worse, planting drugs on suspects during arrests. One of the videos was from November 2016 and involved seven officers; the other was from January and involved three officers.
Prosecutors identified a total of 112 cases that needed to be dropped as a result of those 10 officers’ involvement. Another 206 cases are now under review.
While Davis said the department is still investigating what happened in both of those incidents, he maintained today that in the June arrest, the officers were “certainly not planting evidence“ because the “care and custody of evidence was unbroken,” even when the officer placed the drugs back down for a moment.
Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said in a statement responding to Davis, “the moment an officer decides to re-enact both the discovery and seizure of evidence and excludes this re-enactment in the statement of probable cause, it undermines public trust and creates indefensible doubts in the mind of the general public, judges and jurors.”
Mosby touted the necessity for prosecutors to work with police. Despite his criticism of Mosby’s office, Davis said something in the same vein at the presser.
“This is a bump in the road,” he said.