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Drug case dropped after credibility of arresting officer questioned

Baltimore prosecutors dropped charges Friday against a 26-year-old man after his attorney questioned the credibility of one of the arresting police officers, who has been accused of planting drugs in a separate incident that was captured by his own body camera.

It was among cases involving Officer Richard Pinheiro to be dropped following the release of the body camera footage, which the public defender's office says show him planting drugs while two other officers look on.

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The state's attorney's office said this week that it has dropped or will drop 41 felony drug and gun cases that rely on the testimony of the three officers, while 55 cases remain under review, and 27 will move forward on the strength of independent, corroborative evidence.

Prosecutors initially had sought a postponement in the case against Dominique Reed, who was charged with attempted distribution of narcotics and two counts of possession of narcotics from an incident in July 2016. But District Judge Flynn Owens denied the request, and the state then dropped the charges.

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"The crazy thing is the state stands there and asks for a postponement when they know they are never going to make this case. It's disingenuous," said Reed's attorney, Brandon Mead.

Mead said police say they saw Reed involved in a "hand-to-hand" drug deal, which his client denies.

Mead said the judge criticized the prosecutor for asking for a postponement rather than dropping the charges. He said Owens asked whether the prosecutor could make the case without the officer's testimony, but received no response.

Deputy State's Attorney Janice Bledsoe said her office asked for a postponement because it was awaiting drug analysis. She also noted that Reed had four outstanding warrants when he was arrested in the latest case, including a violation of probation that will keep him behind bars without bail.

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Online court records show Reed, 26, of Milford Mill, has been criminally charged multiple times. He was found guilty of drug possession with intent to distribute in 2015, and violated his probation. He was also found guilty in 2013 of drug possession.

Bledsoe said her office is carefully reviewing cases involving the officers shown in the video, including assessing risks to public safety.

She stressed that prosecutors knew Reed would remain in jail regardless of the outcome of his appearance before Judge Owens because Reed is being held for violating probation in another matter.

The body camera video involving Pinheiro was one of two that defense attorneys have released in recent weeks that they say show officers planting drugs.

In the first video, the public defender's office says Pinheiro is seen placing a soup can, which contains a plastic bag full of white capsules, into a trash-covered lot. Pinheiro is then seen walking to an alley, activating his body camera and then retrieving the drugs. The police department's body cameras automatically save the 30 seconds of video before activation.

Pinheiro has since been suspended by the department; the other two officers seen in the video have been placed on administrative duty pending the investigation.

He could not be reached for comment Friday.

A second video, released Tuesday, shows officers conducting a search of a vehicle and finding nothing. Then, about 30 minutes later, body camera footage shows an officer retrieving a bag of alleged drugs.

Police are investigating both videos, and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis has urged against a rush to judgment. He says the department is investigating whether the officers were "re-enacting" a legitimate discovery of drugs that had been made before the cameras were activated.

Mead said defense attorneys will frequently hear complaints from clients about officers planting drugs or other evidence.

"You try not to be dismissive but it's very hard to prove," Mead said.

But after the recent allegations against Pinheiro, Mead said his office is reviewing other cases that might involve the officers under investigation.

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