A Baltimore police officer has been suspended and two other cops were placed on administrative duty after a recently released police body cam video appears to depict one of the officers planting evidence of drugs at a crime scene. Unbeknownst to the officer, his body camera began recording before he turned it on to allegedly stage a video of himself finding the baggie of pills in an alley.
On January 24, Baltimore Police Officer Richard Pinheiro’s body camera began recording a video of his hand gripping a baggie containing several white pills. After placing the small cellophane bag into an empty can, Pinheiro hid the can beneath a pile of debris in an alley before walking with officers Hovhannes Simonyan and Jamal Brunson to the sidewalk.
Thirty seconds after the video begins, Pinheiro’s hand can be seen activating his body camera as he tells Simonyan and Brunson, “I’m going to check here. Hold on.”
As his cohorts laugh in the background, Pinheiro enters the alley and pretends to search for the bag of pills for a moment before “discovering” the baggie inside the can that he just placed there.
According to Axon, the manufacturer of the police body camera that recorded the video, their cameras automatically record 30 seconds of video without audio before the officers actively turn on their body cams. The feature allows officers to record video evidence that may occur before the officer has a chance to activate their body cam.
Conducting surveillance in an area known for drug dealing, the officers reportedly observed an exchange when they arrested two suspects, according to Police Commissioner Kevin Davis. Although the officers did not record a video of the drug deal, they did produce three additional videos, including the traffic stop of the alleged buyer, the arrest of the alleged dealer, and an additional video of multiple officers searching the same alley where Pinheiro appeared to plant a baggie containing gel capsules of heroin. After reviewing Pinheiro’s body cam footage, the prosecution dropped the charges in the case.
During a recent press conference, Davis rationalized, “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.”
“So even if it is indeed true that they simply staged a re-creation of finding the drugs, these officers have not only destroyed their own credibility, they have single-handedly destroyed the credibility of every piece of video where BPD officers find contraband without a clear lead-in that negates the possibility of it being staged,” David Rocah, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Maryland, told The Baltimore Sun. “That’s quite a day’s work.”
Demanding immediate action from the state attorney’s office, the public defender pointed out that Pinheiro remains a witness in 53 other active cases and was recently used as a witness without the defense attorney’s knowledge of the pending investigation into the suspended officer. Although placed on administrative duty, Simonyan and Brunson are also currently listed as witnesses in pending criminal cases.
Within the past six years, the city of Baltimore has paid more than $13 million to settle lawsuits alleging police misconduct. In 2015, the city paid $6.4 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of Freddie Gray Jr. While accepting all civil liability for Gray’s death in police custody, the city refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing by the officers involved.