Videos of Baltimore Police Planting Evidence Test Body Camera Programs


Baltimore has been wrestling with yet another police scandal. Last month, the city public defender’s office discovered body camera footage showing a local cop placing a bag of heroin in a pile of a trash in an alley. The cop, unaware he was being filmed, walked out of the alley, “turned on” his camera, and went back to “find” the drugs. The cop then arrested a man for the heroin and placed him in jail. The man, who couldn’t afford to post the $50,000 bail, languished there for seven months. He was finally released two weeks ago, after the public defender’s office sent the video to the state attorney.

The officer, Richard Pinheiro, has been suspended with pay, while two other cops in the video have been placed on administrative duty as the investigation pends. More than 30 other cases the three officers were to serve as witnesses for are now being dismissed. On Monday night, the Baltimore Sun reported that the public defender’s office found a second video that appeared to show different cops “manufacturing evidence.”

Now, as the credibility of the entire police-worn body camera program is called into question, the public anxiously waits to see if these two videos will actually lead to any sort of consequences. At a press conference on August 2, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis stressed that the body camera program — which he’s committed to — is still fairly new, and there have been some understandable growing pains as officers adjust to the new technology. “While [those gaps in video footage were] ugly, and while I’m disappointed that officers in these two incidents did not have their cameras on, I think it’s irresponsible to jump to a conclusion that the police officers were engaged in criminal misconduct,” he said, urging the public to withhold its judgment until the investigation is complete.


“This is a critical test, and so far the BPD is failing,” said David Rocah, the senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. “The only way not to fail is for these officers to be held accountable, at least at the departmental level. And if that doesn’t happen, and they don’t suffer the most serious consequences, then I think the body camera program, and all the hopes for it, will have been set back almost irreparably.”

The revelations in the Baltimore case came on the heels of a recent police shooting in Minneapolis, where a local officer fatally shot a white woman who had called 911 to report a possible assault behind her house. The officer had his body camera turned off, so there is no video evidence of the incident. In response to the shooting, the Minneapolis police chief resigned, and the city’s police department updated its body camera policy, outlining more concretely when cameras must be activated.

Baltimore, however, doesn’t have Minneapolis’s problem of a vague policy. The Maryland city developed relatively strong guidelines for their body camera program, which was rolled out in May 2016. Under the policy, unless it’s unsafe, impossible, or impractical to do so, Baltimore cops must activate their cameras “at the initiation of a call for service or other activity or encounter that is investigative or enforcement-related in nature.”

It’s hard to overstate just how devastating this news is for Baltimore – a city desperately trying to restore trust between its residents and the police. In 2016, the prosecution of six officers charged with Freddie Gray’s death in police custody ended with no convictions; the Department of Justice published a damning report finding Baltimore cops engaged in systemic racism and cruelty toward survivors of sexual assault; and, on top of everything else, Bloomberg revealed that the police had been secretly filming the city for months from small planes in the sky. Baltimore is also reckoning with several years of staggeringly high homicide rates, claiming over 200 murders already this year.

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