xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

State's attorney's office reviewing about 100 cases involving officers shown in body camera footage

Baltimore prosecutor Marilyn Mosby addresses recent police body camera footage; the footage shows an officer planting drugs, the public defender's office says. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun)

The Baltimore state's attorney's office is reviewing about 100 cases involving three police officers who are under scrutiny after a police body camera video emerged that the public defender's office says shows one of the officers planting drugs.

State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby said at a news conference Thursday that a team of prosecutors will assess each case, look at the officers' involvement and consider whether there are alternative ways to prove the cases. She emphasized the review "is going to take time."

Advertisement

"It's a matter of public safety," Mosby said. "We have to look at the sufficiency of the evidence in each of these cases and make a determination as to the feasibility and the necessity of that particular officer in that case."

The public defender's office, which released the body camera footage, said the video was recorded by an officer during a January drug arrest and shows the officer placing a soup can, which contains a plastic bag full of white capsules, in a trash-strewn lot.

Advertisement

That portion of the video was recorded before the officer had activated his body-worn camera. The cameras automatically save the 30 seconds of video before activation, but without audio.

Once the officer, identified as Officer Richard Pinheiro, places the can, he returns to the street and turns his camera on. He says, "I'm gonna go check here," before returning to the spot where he put the can. Two other officers — Officers Hovhannes Simonyan and Jamal Brunson — are seen observing him.

Police said one officer has been suspended and two others have been placed on administrative duty. The incident remains under investigation.

The public defender's office alerted prosecutors about the material in the video two days before the case was to go to trial, Mosby said, and the office then dropped the heroin possession charge against the man who was arrested. The man had been in jail since January, unable to post $50,000 bail, according to Debbie Levi, head of the Baltimore Public Defender's special litigation section.

The public defender's office has criticized Mosby for not moving more swiftly to alert defense attorneys about the potential issues with the officers' credibility in the dozens of cases they are involved in. Levi said Mosby's office immediately should have told defense counsel, considered releasing defendants and requested a postponement in every case involving the three officers.

Mosby on Thursday defended her office's response, stressing that officials reacted immediately and in accordance with protocol.

In the case involving the body camera footage, Mosby said that the evidence, including the video, was sent to the defense attorney on April 17. Around July 6, the assistant state's attorney offered a plea deal in the case, and on July 12 — two days before the trial — the assistant state's attorney was alerted by the public defender about concerns the video raised.

The assistant state's attorney relayed those concerns to his supervisor the next morning, Mosby said, and the charges were dismissed on July 14. That same day, the supervisor asked the division chief of evidence review to inspect the full body worn camera footage, which consisted of 10 videos ranging from two minutes to 34 minutes.

When initially reviewing the 10 body camera videos that are part of the case, the sight of the officer placing a bag in the soup can "wasn't immediately visible or apparent" to the assistant state's attorney, Mosby said.

The office completed reviewing the footage on Monday, and began internally notifying all assistant state's attorneys who were handling active cases that involved any of the three officers, Mosby said. Her office immediately referred the matter to the Baltimore Police Department's internal affairs division and began identifying the active cases involving the three officers, Mosby said

One of the officers involved served as a witness in a separate case on Monday. Mosby said her office was in the process of pulling cases at the time the officer served as a witness.

Following Mosby's news conference Thursday, the public defender's office released a statement saying Mosby "continued to sidestep gaps in her office's constitutional obligations to disclose misconduct and the lack of a clear policy and protocol for addressing impacted cases in court."

Advertisement

"The State's Attorney has a well-established constitutional obligation to disclose information that challenges the credibility of its officers" Levi said. "The Constitution does not build in any exception for delay."

Police said they have not reached any conclusions about the officers' conduct depicted in the video. On Wednesday, the department released additional body-worn camera footage that Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said provides "other perspectives" of the incident in question. Davis said police are investigating whether the officer in the video wasn't planting drugs, but rather was "re-creating" his discovery of the bag of drugs.

Pinheiro could not be reached for comment Thursday.

An attorney for the police union also could not be reached for comment late Thursday.

At least one other case involving the officers has been dismissed. Attorney Roland Brown said he was on his way to defend his client in a trial Wednesday when a colleague showed him the body camera footage. The officer at the center of the video, Pinheiro, was one of the officers who could have testified against Brown's client.

The nine charges against his client were dismissed, Brown said.

"I'm pleased that my client's freedom is no longer in jeopardy based on allegations from this officer," Brown said. "The prosecutors did the right thing. They recognized the issues they had with this case. … The witness was very questionable at this point."

The public defender's office says this police body camera footage from a January drug arrest shows an officer placing a bag of drugs in a trash strewn lot. The officer can then be seen walking to the street, where he flips on his body camera, returns to the lot and picks up a soup can containing a bag of drugs. 

Police cameras have a feature that saves 30 seconds of video prior to activation, but without audio. When the officer is first in the alley, there is no audio until 30 seconds later.

Baltimore police and prosecutors have launched investigations after being alerted to body camera footage that the public defender's office says shows an officer planting drugs. 

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement