Once Again, Public Defender Says Body Cam Footage Appears to Show City Police Officers Manufacturing Evidence

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Public defenders say more body camera footage has surfaced “that appears to depict multiple officers working together to manufacture evidence,” once again leading to dropped charges and an internal review.

This footage involves seven completely different officers than the three depicted in the video released two weeks ago, which appeared to show one cop planting evidence in a Southwest Baltimore backyard while two others stood guard. The police department suspended Officer Richard Pinheiro — the one seen stuffing a back of drugs into a soup can and then “finding” it — and placed the other two officers on administrative leave. It’s launched an internal investigation.

The case involving the newly announced footage was dropped in Baltimore City Circuit Court yesterday due to suspected police misconduct, according to the Maryland Office of the Public Defender. Spokeswoman Melissa Rothstein said in an email that the office won’t be releasing the footage because only one of the two defendants in the case is represented by a public defender.

She did share the following general description of the footage with Baltimore Fishbowl:

A series of body worn camera videos show multiple officers searching a car, including the front driver side area. After the car has been thoroughly searched, the officers turn off their body cameras and reactivate them. When the cameras come back on one officer is seen squatting by the driver’s seat area. The group of officers then wait approximately 30 seconds. Shortly thereafter, another officer asks if the area by that compartment has been searched. Nobody responds, and the officer reaches in and locates a bag that appears to contain drugs right by where the prior officer was, and where the car had been thoroughly searched about a half an hour prior with absolutely no results.

According to the public defender’s office, city prosecutors referred two of those seven officers to Baltimore Police Internal Affairs.

Melba Saunders, a spokeswoman for the State’s Attorney’s Office of Baltimore City, confirmed as much in a statement. She added, “before we blanketly characterize their behavior as deceptive and/or a credibility issue, we referred the matter to the Internal Affairs Division of the Baltimore Police Department.”

Pending the outcome of that investigation, prosecutors are “requesting postponements on all cases involving the officers,” she said. “We look forward to continuing the advancement and pursuit of justice for all.”

State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby may have alluded to the more recently announced body cam footage during a press conference last Friday, when she said an “additional video raised concerns for one of our prosecutors.”

She revealed that day that her team had dropped or dismissed 34 of more than 100 cases tied to Pinheiro and his two colleagues. Those that were dismissed or dropped “rely exclusively on the credibility of these officers,” Mosby said.

The revelation of a second body cam video allegedly showing evidence manipulation by city cops casts a larger shadow over a department already reforming its practices under court order. Police say they’re looking into it.

“Anytime an allegation of misconduct is made, we take it seriously and investigate it fully,” said Baltimore Police chief spokesman T.J. Smith in an emailed statement. “Right now, we are investigating the allegation that was brought forth by the Office of the Public Defender and the State’s Attorney’s Office.”

It’s also another bad look for prosecutors, who – once again – seemingly could have flagged the footage during the evidence-review process before the case ever went to trial.

Debbie Katz Levi, head of the Office of the Public Defender’s Special Litigation Section, criticized prosecutors for both a lack of disclosure of evidence and what she called a lack of transparency with the public, saying it “both prejudices defendants and violates the prosecutor’s constitutional obligations. Hundreds of individuals are awaiting trial on cases that rely on these officers, and hundreds more have likely been convicted based on their testimony.”

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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