The release of three Baltimore Police body camera videos last summer prompted allegations by defense attorneys and others of officers planting drugs.
The videos also drew public responses by then-Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, who cautioned against a rush to judgment, but also defended the drug arrests made by the officers. Davis also criticized the decision by the city State’s Attorney’s Office to drop dozens of cases that involved the officers in the videos.
This week, a grand jury indicted one of the officers in the videos on charges of fabricating evidence and misconduct. But prosecutors also cleared three officers involved in one of the other videos. The actions of the officers in the third released body camera video remain under investigation, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Davis was fired last week by Mayor Catherine Pugh, who said she had grown “impatient” with his inability to stem the historic pace of killings in the city. She named Deputy Commissioner Darryl D. De Sousa, the top commander in the police Department’s patrol bureau, as his replacement, effective immediately.
Here’s an accounting of Davis’ statements following the release of the body camera videos last year:
» After the release of the first body camera video last July, which the public defender’s office said showed an officer planting drugs, Davis said his department has “not reached any conclusions, because that’s what an investigation is for.”
But he noted — and released portions of — other body-worn camera videos from the incident in question that he said provided “other perspectives” than the one provided in the video flagged by the public defender’s office.
“To let that initial video that was released by the public defender's office stand all by its lonesome I think doesn't paint as clear of a picture as we would like to offer to the community right now,” he said.
The video released by the public defender’s office shows Officer Richard A. Pinheiro Jr. placing a soup can into a trash-strewn lot. That portion of the footage was recorded automatically, before the officer activated his camera. Police body cameras have a feature that saves the 30 seconds of video before activation, but without audio.
After placing the can down, Pinheiro walks to the street and flips his camera on.
“I’m gonna go check here,” the officer says. He returns to the lot, picks up the soup can and removes a plastic bag filled with white capsules.
Pinheiro was charged Tuesday with fabricating evidence and misconduct in office.
» In August, following the release of a second police body camera video that defense attorneys said showed officers planting drugs, Davis said there was “no doubt” that illegal drugs were legitimately recovered in both cases, which were dropped by prosecutors amid questions surrounding the footage.
Davis said it is the job of defense attorneys to raise doubt. But he warned that accusing officers of fabricating evidence is “a heavy allegation to make” and “irresponsible” before investigations into the footage are complete — even if the footage looks “ugly” on first impression.
“It would be premature of me to stand in front of you and reach a conclusion as to exactly what happened,” he said. “But I do know that it’s not healthy to jump to a conclusion that police officers did something criminal. In both of these cases, it’s no doubt that drugs were recovered and the recovery of those drugs were captured on body-worn cameras. There’s no doubt that that took place in either case. There’s no doubt that probable cause existed for arrest.”
The officers’ actions in that video remain under investigation, prosecutors said this week.
» As Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby began dropping criminal cases against dozens of defendants whose prosecutions hinged on the testimony of the officers in the body camera videos, Davis stopped short of criticizing her for dropping the cases.
“In her opinion, the best of interest of justice compelled her to make the decision that she made, and I completely respect that decision,” Davis said at the time.
But he acknowledged that he hates “when a criminal case has to be dropped because of real or perceived concerns about a police officer’s credibility,” in part because he believes some of the people whose cases have been dropped will likely return to the street to commit additional crimes.
“God forbid that they hurt somebody,” Davis said. “That’s what I worry about.”
» Later in August, Mosby’s office announced that a third police body-camera video showing “questionable activity” by a Baltimore police officer had emerged, this time after an officer “self-reported” the footage as a “re-enactment of the seizure of evidence.”
Police and prosecutors clashed over the video, which showed an officer finding drugs in a cigarillo bag with his body camera not activated. The officer can be seen in the footage putting down the bag, turning on his camera, and picking the bag up again — a sequence that spans about 20 seconds. Davis said another officer’s camera had documented what the first officer’s camera did not.
Davis said he “firmly disagreed” with prosecutors’ decision to drop the drug case, as well as other cases involving the officers shown in the footage.
“There is nothing questionable about this. The officers did exactly what I and the community expect of them: to go out and make legal arrests based on sound probable cause,” Davis said. “I will not be a bystander when my police officers are doing what I and my commanders expect them to do in this crime fight.”