Baltimore officer in second body-camera video says drug discovery was legitimate, and explained to prosecutors last spring

A Baltimore police officer in a body-camera video that defense attorneys say appears to show police planting drugs says the allegations are baseless — and that he explained to prosecutors months ago how he discovered the drugs legitimately.

Officer Glenn Peters wrote in an internal police memo that he explained the circumstances of the November 2016 drug bust to Assistant State’s Attorney Jeremy Whitlock in April, and Whitlock “advised that after reviewing the footage he was satisfied.”

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby’s office refused to confirm or deny that account.

Mosby’s office referred the video to the Internal Affairs division of the Baltimore Police Department late last month, after the public defender’s office raised concerns about body-camera footage from a different drug operation, in January.

Jeremy Eldridge, an attorney for Peters, suggested Mosby’s office flagged the video in Peters’ case only because her office was feeling pressure over its handling of the January video.

A review of the time-stamped footage in the November case, which was obtained by The Sun and authenticated by the police department, showed an officer spending about a minute searching the driver’s side of a suspects’ vehicle late on Nov. 29. The officer does not appear to find anything there.

A separate video recorded about 30 minutes later shows an officer searching the driver’s side of the vehicle again — and emerging almost immediately with a bag of alleged drugs.

The public defender’s office has said the video appears to depict officers manipulating evidence. One of the suspects arrested in the case said it shows officers planting drugs.

Eldridge said the footage showed the legitimate recovery of drugs by police. He said the officers saw the drugs, then paused briefly to turn cameras on and ensure the retrieval was recorded.

He said Peters’ internal memo, which was obtained by The Baltimore Sun, not only supports that claim, but also shows his client was transparent from the start about the recovery.

The memo is what’s known in the police department as a “95” — a form an officer can fill out to put information on the record with supervisors

Eldridge said he did not have a copy of the internal document.

On the form, dated July 25, Peters described being in a covert position and observing what he believed was a drug transaction by a man who then got into a car with a black bag. He described alerting fellow officers in the area to the vehicle, which they stopped, and the other officers searching the vehicle with no luck before turning their cameras off.

He then wrote of his own actions at the scene.

“Believing that the black bag with suspected [drugs] was in the vehicle I advised that we needed to conduct a more thorough search of the vehicle,” he wrote. “I illuminated the steering wheel/driver’s side floor area with my flashlight where I observed the black bag wedged under the steering column.”

Peters wrote that he then told another officer of the bag, and that that officer — identified in court records as Det. Charles Baugher Jr. — turned his body-camera back on and retrieved the bag.

Peters wrote that, in April, another officer had told him that Whitlock had “expressed concerns with the footage,” but the officer had explained what occurred to Whitlock, and the prosecutor “was satisfied with how the events took place.”

Peters wrote that he then called Whitlock himself to explain the circumstances again, and Whitlock told him directly that he was “satisfied.”

Peters wrote that he was advised in late July that the case was to be dismissed, that the public defender’s office would be releasing the footage — it did not — and that Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe had sent an email to all assistant state’s attorneys “asking them to immediately notify her of any cases” involving Peters or another officer.

“Unsure of the intentions of Ms. Bledsoe or the public defender’s office I wanted to make my command and the department aware,” Peters wrote.

Three days after he filed the memo, on July 28, Mosby held a news conference in which she said her office had referred body camera footage from a second case to the police department.

Mosby did not identify the case. Police confirmed it was the one involving Peters.

Mosby’s office referred all questions about the case Wednesday to police. Prosecutors have dropped all charges related to the drug investigation, as well as several other cases that rely on the testimony of officers involved in the bust. She has postponed at least two others.

One of the suspects in the bust, Shamere Collins, has said the drugs were planted in her car, and that she intends to pursue all legal options against the police department.

Police have said the officer who found the drugs was not on the scene during the initial searches of the vehicle and had a better sense of where to search because he had been conducting surveillance prior to the traffic stop. But they have declined to identify the officers in the case or comment on Peters’ memo.

Commissioner Kevin Davis has said probable cause existed for the stop and drugs were found legitimately. He has warned against a rush to judgment against police.

Debbie Katz Levi, who heads the special litigation section in the Baltimore public defender’s office, said Peters’ memo was not disclosed to defense counsel. She said it should have been.

Eldridge said there are other portions of video and evidence that help prove his client and the other officers on the scene did not plant the drugs. He said he hopes the department’s investigation reveals that, because the officers are innocent of any wrongdoing, and the public should know.

“They just want the truth to come out,” he said. “Nobody wants what we have right now. Nobody wants everyone to distrust the cops.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Tim Prudente contributed to this article.

krector@baltsun.com

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