It was only a couple of weeks ago that a Baltimore police officer’s newly unveiled body camera footage showed him planting evidence at a supposed crime scene. But just two weeks later, we now have more video of a totally different set of officers appearing to do the same thing.
The video, released by the Baltimore public defender’s office, shows officers allegedly placing drugs in a car. The officers searched the scene, they said, after they supposedly witnessed a drug deal. In the video, the officers are shown thoroughly searching a car — apparently finding nothing. The cameras are then turned off. But they turn on a bit later, showing an officer squatting by the car. After a while, the officer backs off. Then 30 seconds later, another cop searches the same spot the officer was squatting at, and — suddenly! — finds a bag of drugs.
The earlier video told a similar story. In it, officer Richard Pinheiro puts a bag of pills under some trash in an alley. He then walks to the street. He then activates his camera (failing to recognize that it picks up the previous 30 seconds), walks back to the alley, and acts like he just found the drugs for the first time.
Footage shows officer placing drugs in trash; goes out to street, turns on camera, returns. Cams save 30 sec prior to activation, w/o sound pic.twitter.com/5ZW128lWFM— Justin Fenton (@justin_fenton) July 19, 2017
The videos have already led the Baltimore prosecutor to drop dozens of cases involving the officers, and many more are under review. They also led to a bizarre statement from the Baltimore police commissioner in which he actually had to ask his officers to not stage body camera footage.
With the earlier video, one of the concerns raised was not just that an officer was planting evidence but that his fellow officers were going along with it — as if it was normal police work for them. The new video shows the same thing. It raises the question: Is this behavior widely accepted at the Baltimore Police Department?
This wouldn’t be the first sign that the city’s police force has a big problem. A 2016 investigation from the US Department of Justice uncovered widespread abuse at the department, chronicling misconduct and racial discrimination at practically every level.
“Racially disparate impact is present at every stage of [the Baltimore Police Department]’s enforcement actions, from the initial decision to stop individuals on Baltimore streets to searches, arrests, and uses of force,” the report concluded. “These racial disparities, along with evidence suggesting intentional discrimination, erode the community trust that is critical to effective policing.”
Since the report came out, the Baltimore Police Department has been undergoing a court-enforced reform process. Based on the body camera videos, though, the police force still has a lot of work to do.