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Prosecutors say a third body-camera video shows 'questionable activity' by police, drop dozens more cases

A third police body-camera video showing “questionable activity” by a Baltimore police officer has emerged, this time after an officer “self-reported” the footage as a “re-enactment of the seizure of evidence,” according to Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby’s office.

As with two previous controversial body-camera videos — both of which remain under investigation — the new video has prompted prosecutors to revisit criminal cases that rely on the testimony of the officer or officers involved. In the latest case, prosecutors have already identified 43 criminal cases to be dropped, Mosby’s office said Monday.

“The body-worn-camera program was established to fight crime, better protect officers, and foster public trust,” Mosby said in a statement. “Whether planting evidence, re-enacting the seizure of evidence or prematurely turning off the department-issued body-worn camera, those actions misrepresent the truth and undermine public trust.”

T.J. Smith, a police spokesman, said the video is under review. Neither he nor Mosby’s office would provide details about the case involved or describe what is observed in the video, but Smith stressed that a police officer brought it to authorities’ attention.

“This is not an allegation of planting evidence. This is a self-reported situation where the officer felt that it deserved more scrutiny based on the things that have been in the news. We are aware of it and it is something that we are looking into,” he said.

He didn’t say how the officer self-reported the footage.

“Officers who mainly work with the utmost credibility, don’t want their credibility challenged because of a misunderstanding,” he said. “So this is a good problem to have, when you are self-reporting.”

Smith predicted there would be future cases where officers bring attention to videos, as well.

“I think, out of an abundance of caution, officers are going to come forward and say, ‘just F.Y.I.,’ and we shouldn’t let that cloud everything because it deserves time, it deserves investigation.”

Andrew Northrup, chief of the felony division in the Baltimore public defender’s office, said Mosby’s announcement came as a surprise. The “fact that the state’s attorney went to the media about these cases without first talking to the defense lawyers involved in these cases speaks volumes that once again Marilyn Mosby chooses political expediency over justice,” Northrup said.

Deborah Katz Levi, director of special litigation in the public defender’s office, said her office has received no information from Mosby’s office about the officer or officers involved in the latest video, or the dozens of cases associated with them that have been or will be dropped. Levi said prosecutors have an obligation to disclose officers’ integrity issues to defense counsel.

Levi said she specifically inquired with Mosby’s office on Aug. 2 about three officers who public defenders heard were being pulled off of cases as witnesses, and asked whether Mosby’s office had anything to disclose about those officers. Levi said she received no response, then began seeing cases associated with those same officers getting dropped in bunches Monday without any notification to defense attorneys.

Mosby’s office would not say how many officers were involved in the latest body-camera investigation.

The video was recorded in June and reported to prosecutors Aug. 2, before it had come into their possession as evidence in the criminal case in which it was recorded, Mosby’s office said.

The 43 cases that have been or will be dropped included those against 12 defendants who were in custody pending trial. Prosecutors say they will move forward with 22 other cases involving the officer or officers in the video including 12 in which the defendants are in custody pending trial. Prosecutors are also reviewing 36 closed cases.

Mosby’s office declined to release the video, saying prosecutors had referred it to police for investigation.

Videos from two other incidents are also under investigation, one in November and one in January, in which the public defender’s office and a private attorney for one of the defendants have alleged that drugs were being planted by officers.

In the first video, recorded in January and released by the public defender’s office in July, defense attorneys say Officer Richard Pinheiro can be seen placing a bag of alleged drugs among debris in a backyard lot, walking out to the street, activating his body camera and then returning to the alley and recovering the same bag as two other officers look on. Officers’ body cameras are constantly recording a 30-second loop of footage, which they save once activated — meaning footage of the 30 seconds before activation are saved.

Pinheiro has been suspended pending a police investigation. Officers Hovhannes Simonyan and Jamal Brunson have been placed on administrative duty pending the investigation.

Mosby’s office said Monday 68 criminal cases that relied on the testimony of those officers have been or will be dropped, while 41 active cases and 92 closed cases are under review. Prosecutors have decided to pursue prosecutions in 26 cases involving the officers.

In the second set of videos, recorded in November and obtained by The Baltimore Sun this month, officers can be seen searching the driver’s area of a vehicle and not finding anything before turning off their body cameras. They later turn their cameras on, and an officer almost immediately pulls a bag of alleged drugs out of the driver’s area of the car.

Mosby’s office said it has asked for postponements in 44 cases that relied on the testimony of the officers involved; they will be dropped if the motions are not granted. The office said 56 active cases and 114 closed cases are under review. Prosecutors have decided to pursue prosecutions in 18 cases.

Police Commissioner Kevin Davis has said probable cause existed and illegal drugs were legitimately recovered amid the broader investigations in which the first two videos were taken, and that the public should not rush to judgment in either case before the conclusion of the department’s investigations.

Davis said the department was looking into the possibility that the videos showed re-enactments of the discovery of drugs, and issued an internal memo to officers obtained by The Sun reminding them that re-enactments are never allowed.

Officer Glenn Peters, a covert officer in the second set of videos, said in an internal report to his supervisors that was obtained by The Sun that the drug discovery on camera was legitimate. He said he spotted the drugs in the steering column of the vehicle after arriving on the scene after other officers had searched the car without luck. He said they turned their body cameras back on to record the recovery of the drugs.

Shamere Collins, a defendant in the drug case before it was dropped, has alleged the drugs were planted by police.

The body-camera investigations follow the indictment of seven Baltimore police officers in March on federal racketeering charges — a case that also led to Mosby’s office dropping criminal charges against defendants arrested by the officers involved. Federal prosecutors allege those officers robbed citizens, filed false court paperwork and filed fraudulent overtime claims. Two of the officers have pleaded guilty.

Mosby’s office on Monday said her office has now dropped or will drop 77 criminal cases that relied on the officers in the racketeering case. There are 111 cases still under review. Her office has decided to move forward with 37 cases involving the officers.

Mosby’s office said it has “been forced to employ significant resources in order to thoroughly evaluate questionable [body-worn camera] incidents and all related cases pertaining to the officers involved.”

It said all “questionable” activity has been referred to the police department’s Internal Affairs Division.

Prosecutors have not provided a list of all of the cases they have dropped in relation to all of the body-camera videos. However, they did provide a list of 41 felony drug and gun cases they dropped in relation to the first video, from the January incident.

Since last month, when the cases began getting dropped, some of the defendants have been arrested again.

Shamarr Levi, 22, was arrested in June and charged with carrying a handgun and drugs. Police stopped Levi and found a loaded revolver in his pocket, officers wrote in charging documents.

Prosecutors dropped the charges, but nearly a month later he was arrested again.

In his second arrest, police stopped two people in a car in the Rosemont neighborhood of West Baltimore and said they found two loaded semi-automatic handguns, suspected drugs and cash. Levi faces gun and drug charges, again. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing next month in Baltimore District court.

Levi did not have an attorney listed in online court records.

Also Trayon Jones, 26, was arrested in March with two other men and charged with dealing cocaine out of a vacant stash house in Southwest Baltimore. Gun and drug charges against Jones were dropped July 24. Within a month, he was back in police custody, arrested on the same West Baltimore block and charged with selling marijuana and disorderly conduct.

Jones did not have an attorney listed in online court records. His girlfriend said police were “coming after” the men who saw their cases dropped.

But Smith said officers are only targeting those who commit crimes.

“No one should be surprised or stunned as we've often spoken about repeat offenders,” he wrote in an email last week. “We were hopeful that they would make the best of their ‘second chance,’ but they didn't. They made a choice, once again, to illegally carry a firearm and our officers did a great job arresting them, again.”

krector@baltsun.com

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