Public defender: Videos show an officer discovering drugs that another officer had allegedly put there moments before
Police Commissioner: 'That's a heavy allegation to make'
Two weeks after body camera footage purportedly showed a Baltimore officer planting drugs at the scene of an arrest, the city’s public defender’s office claims a second set of videos captured another similar incident.
The newest videos, which stem from a November 29, 2016, drug arrest, show “multiple officers working together to manufacture evidence,” the Baltimore City Office of the Public Defender said Tuesday.
The latest videos show an officer finding drugs that another officer had allegedly placed there moments before, said Debbie Katz Levi, head of the city public defender’s Special Litigation Section.
The case was dismissed this week for “suspected police misconduct,” Levi said.
CNN has reviewed the 16 body camera videos from the incident, and they do not appear to conclusively show officers planting evidence.
CNN’s review of the footage shows the following:
Officers stopped the woman and her passenger shortly after 11:30 p.m. Police ask the woman to step out of the car.
“Your passenger is under arrest because your car smells like weed,” one officer says when the woman questions why she is being asked to get out of her car.
“I’m putting handcuffs on you because there’s drugs in your car,” an officer says later.
“You didn’t show me any drugs,” the woman responds.
Around 11:41 p.m., the video shows officers searching the back seat and the front seat area. The search of the front seat and console area lasts for about 3 minutes and 20 seconds. Officers also later check the trunk and inside the hood.
As the driver and an officer stand a few feet from the car, another officer retrieves a jacket from the back seat. That officer makes a reference to the jacket’s right pocket and hands something to a third officer.
“This is the rest of my weed I was smoking but I didn’t smoke it in the car,” the woman tells an officer.
Around 12:21 a.m., one video shows an officer crouching by the driver’s side area before getting up and stepping out of view as other officers stand near the car.
“I just turned on,” an officer said, according to another body camera. “You’re not supposed to,” an officer is heard saying.
Footage from one camera shows officers outside the car for several seconds before one officer says: “Did anybody check this compartment here yet?”
The officer wearing the body camera shines his flashlight in the car and leans in to check the driver’s side area.
Seconds later, the officer pulls a bag from that area. “Well here ya go. Oh yeah, oh yeah,” the officer says.
“Oh my God, I knew it. That’s why they were freaking out,” another officer says.
“That’s the weed smell right there, too. Oh, these are like little fives,” says the officer who recovered the bag. “These little small bags and here’s some dope and coke.”
Soon after the body camera goes off.
Officers not suspended
The Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office said it “had questions” about the officers’ body camera videos and asked to postpone cases involving two officers amid an internal investigation, according to spokeswoman Melba Saunders.
“The Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office referred two officers to Internal Affairs as we had questions concerning their body worn camera videos,” Saunders said in a previous statement. “Before we blanketly characterize their behavior as deceptive and or a credibility issue, we referred the matter to the Internal Affairs Division of the Baltimore Police Department.”
None of the officers was suspended, but two officers involved in that arrest were referred to the department’s Internal Affairs Division, according to T.J. Smith, a police spokesman. Authorities have not released the names of the officers.
‘It appears to be a really thorough search’
Levi, in an interview with CNN on Thursday, said police had previously searched the area where the drugs were found.
“At 11:41 p.m. an officer thoroughly searches the front of the car including the driver’s side compartment and they don’t find anything,” Levi said.
“They really dug in there,” she said. “It appears to be a really thorough search.”
“And then at 12:21 a.m., there’s an officer crouching down briefly sort of fiddling in that compartment. We believe at that point that that’s where he may have placed evidence,” she said.
Levi said the officer stands up and the officers wait for 30 seconds.
“And his colleague says, ‘Did anybody check this compartment yet?’ And he’s notably silent. Not only had he checked the compartment but there’s another person standing next to him who I believe had also checked the compartment,” she told CNN.
Levi declined to comment about the driver’s admission she had marijuana in her possession and referred CNN to the woman’s attorney, Josh Insley.
Insley said the marijuana recovered doesn’t affect the outcome of the case.
“That’s clearly not what they were looking for. They were looking for a stash of narcotics,” he told CNN.
He said the small amount of marijuana the woman had would result in a civil citation.
“They booked her for felony distribution because of the heroin they found. I don’t know if they even booked her for that marijuana,” he said.
Commissioner: ‘Irresponsible’ to say officers engaged in criminal misconduct
Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis on Wednesday asked the public to wait for the investigation to be completed.
“I think it’s irresponsible to jump to a conclusion that the police officers were engaged in criminal misconduct. That’s a heavy allegation to make,” Davis told reporters.
He said it’s too early to reach a conclusion on what happened but there’s “no doubt” that drugs were recovered during the stop.
Davis said it’s the job of the criminal defense attorney to raise doubt.
“When they see a gap in a videotape, especially when the camera is on and then it’s off and there’s a gap, sometimes it’s going to raise enough doubt to call into question the arrest and the prosecution,” he said.
Davis, in an earlier memo on Tuesday, issued a stern warning not to “attempt to recreate the recovery of evidence after reactivating your body worn camera.”
41 cases dismissed after first video released
The latest video emerged not long after body camera footage was released that appeared to show a Baltimore police officer planting drugs at the scene of an arrest in January.
That video, released by the Office of the Public Defender, appears to show an officer placing a plastic bag into a food can and then hiding it under debris. The officer leaves the scene only to return shortly after, and appears to stumble upon that plastic bag of drugs in the can.
One officer in that video has been suspended, and two others were placed on administrative duty amid an investigation, officials said.
This week, Saunders, the spokesperson for Marilyn Mosby, the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City, told CNN that 41 cases featuring the officers have been dismissed or are slated to be dismissed. Fifty-five other cases are still being reviewed, said Saunders.
“Where these officers are material and necessary witnesses, we are dismissing those cases, which rely exclusively on the credibility of these officers,” Mosby said last week.
The officers involved in that case have made no public comment.
Mosby also said that “an additional video raised concern,” though it was not clear if that referred to this latest body camera video.
Baltimore Police began the rollout of the body camera program in May 2016.
The recent videos come as the department, long plagued by charges of corruption, has struggled to restore public confidence. In March, seven Baltimore officers were federally charged with robbing citizens, filing false reports and claiming overtime fraudulently. Two of those now-former officers recently pleaded guilty.
Shortly after the officers were charged, the police commissioner said the department would be stopping its plainclothes policy, telling the Baltimore Sun he was concerned that their methods “accelerated a cutting-corners mindset.”
In April, a federal judge approved a consent decree after a Justice Department report that found wide racial disparity in how the Baltimore police treat citizens.
CNN’s Kwegyirba Croffie, Chris Boyette, Dave Alsup and Rob Frehse contributed to this report.