Advertisement

Davis, Mosby clash over latest officer body camera controversy

Baltimore Police commissioner Kevin Davis said he “firmly disagreed” with State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby over a third body camera of an officer allegedly replanning evidence. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)

Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby clashed Thursday over body camera footage of a drug discovery, with Mosby saying that officers praised by the commissioner for doing good work had in fact undermined public trust by not following procedure.

Davis held a news conference to say he "firmly disagreed" with prosecutors' decision to drop the drug case, as well as other cases involving the officers shown in the footage.

Advertisement

"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."

But at her own news conference, Mosby said the body camera footage captured behavior that left her no choice but to drop the cases. The footage is the third in the past month to spark controversy.

"This cannot be the face of policing in Baltimore City," Mosby said. "It undermines public trust and creates indefensible doubts in the minds of the general public, judges and jurors."

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby and the Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow discuss their belief that the questionable body camera footage of a drug discovery in fact undermines public trust. (Kevin Richardson, Baltimore Sun video)

The public disagreement came just days after Davis and Mosby presented a united front in a joint interview with The Baltimore Sun. Both said Thursday they merely did not see eye-to-eye on the implications of the body camera footage, and would continue to work together to fight crime.

But both also appeared to have dug in their heels about the footage. Police said they would not pull the officers involved from the streets, while prosecutors would not say whether they plan to keep dropping cases that depend on the officers' testimony. Mosby said her office is considering reinstating a "do not call" list of officers with credibility issues whose cases won't be taken by prosecutors, a flash point between former administrators that was done away with in 2011.

The body camera footage at issue was released by police Thursday. It shows a 22-year-old man breaking free of officers while handcuffed and fleeing into a wooded area before surrendering. The man was booked on drug charges, and the officers later listened to calls he was making from jail.

On one call, also provided by police, the suspect can be heard telling an associate to "go check" the wooded area, and mentioned a bag of cigarillos.

Davis said officers went to that location and one of them found drugs in a cigarillo bag, but he had not turned on his body camera. 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.

In Davis' view, the officer's action in setting down evidence so he could turn on his camera to record the discovery is understandable. Mosby and her staff say the action was improper and required them to drop cases involving the officer and others with him.

Davis, using a several football analogies, said prosecutors had made a "bad call." Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow said: "We're not playing football here. This is not a question of trying to get away with something and hope the referee doesn't see it.

"We're here to do justice and earn the community's trust, and we don't do that when we ignore credibility issues with witnesses who are necessary to successfully prosecute a case," Schatzow said.

The video is the third in recent weeks to raise questions about gaps in body camera footage, causing prosecutors to drop dozens of cases.

The public defender's office has argued that a video from an arrest in January showed an officer planting drugs in a trash-strewn lot.

In a second set of videos, recorded in November and obtained by The Baltimore Sun, officers shown searching the driver's area of a vehicle are unable to find drugs and turn their cameras off. They later turn their cameras back on, and an officer almost immediately pulls a bag of alleged drugs from the same area of the vehicle.

Advertisement

Prosecutors and police have staff who review officer body camera footage, looking for potential violations. But the latest footage, from a June arrest, came to light when one of the officers involved — aware of the recent controversies regarding body cameras — notified the department himself.

Mosby said the fact that the officer flagged the video "doesn't negate the fact that he re-created what he actually found. That goes directly to his credibility, and had it not been for that 30 seconds of pre-recoridng, we might not have known."

The officer did not write in a sworn statement of probable cause submitted to the court that the body camera footage was not the initial discovery of the drugs.

Davis has said that 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.

But Thursday brought stronger comments in defense of his officers, who he said need the public's backing to work their hardest to fight crime.

A common thread among the cases was body cameras not being turned on during key moments. Asked why officers aren't continuously recording while conducting investigations, Davis has said that officers have been "reluctant" to properly use cameras, a program the city invested millions of dollars in to foster accountability.

"In 2016 we were dealing with some police officers who are reluctant to use it as our policy required them to use it," Davis said. "I think we're at a far better place in August [2017] than we were in late 2016, but the problem is some of those arrests from 2016 are now making their way into courtrooms."

Davis said agency policies on recording have been reinforced in light of the recent questions. He said Thursday that he has disciplined 62 officers for not turning on their body-worn cameras at the correct times.

"I don't hesitate at all, and I don't lose any sleep, when it comes to discipline," Davis said.

Mosby said she was eagerly awaiting the findings of pending police investigations into the videos, which her office will review before deciding if the officers committed criminal offenses.

While Mosby's office has dropped dozens of cases, prosecutors are pushing forward with many others that do not rely on the credibility of the officers. That decision has continued to draw criticism from the public defender's office.

Deborah Katz Levi of the public defender's office said Thursday that prosecutors have not revealed which cases they have dropped because of the most recent footage and have not identified the officers shown in that footage.

"Their job is to disclose material to defense lawyers, and they are absolutely, completely failing at their obligation to disclose," Levi said. "They do not get to hide the ball."

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement