When Officer Richard Pinheiro arrested a man for possession and intent to sell illicit drugs back in January, it appeared to be a fairly typical scene.
Pinheiro, along with two other officers, had been patrolling an area in Baltimore, Maryland known for its drug deals, when they witnessed what they believed to be a drug transaction. The arrest followed suit, a man was charged, and that was the end of it.
This was all until recently, when body camera footage of the arrest emerged, telling an entirely different story. The footage shows Officer Pinheiro placing a bag of white capsules inside of a soda can in an alley way as the two other officers look on. Pinheiro then walks back out to the street, turns his body camera on, and announces (loud enough for the camera to hear) that he is going back to search the alley. The officer then walks back into the alley and “finds” the very same bag of illicit drugs he had just placed down.
Officer Pinheiro had forgotten one thing though: that the Baltimore Police Department retains footage from body cameras starting 30 seconds before they are turned on. While this first 30 seconds of footage does not have audio, it is certainly enough to suggest that the officer intentionally and covertly planted the evidence that led to the arrest.
The video was released by Maryland’s Office of the Public Defender, and has led to an investigation by the BPD’s Office of Professional Responsibility. In the meantime, the charges against the alleged drug dealer have been dropped. According to Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, one of the officers has been suspended and two have been placed on administrative duty.
Footage taken moments before this video shows the man being arrested and the officers finding marijuana and one heroin pill on his person. They then headed into the alley to continue their search, where they “found” the bag of 25 heroin pills. Although drugs were initially found on the man, this would certainly not undermine the gravity of a situation in which an officer went on to falsely plant evidence.
Commissioner Davis described the significance of the indecent:
“This is a serious allegation of police misconduct. There’s nothing that deteriorates the trust of any community more than thinking for one second that uniformed police officers, or police officers in general, would plant evidence of crimes on citizens. That’s as serious as it gets.”
Though acknowledging that the allegations are quite serious, Commissioner David does entertain the notion that the officers may have been simply re-enacting events that occurred beforehand, specifically turning the camera on so that they would have footage of exactly what they found.
“It’s certainly a possibility that we’re looking into to see if the officers in fact replaced drugs that they had already discovered in order to document their discovery with their body-worn cameras on,” David said.
This, however, would still be considered inappropriate conduct and “inconsistent with the way police officers do business.” At the very least, the five-minute gap in footage is enough to warrant suspicion, as it goes against strict police rules that officers must record all investigative and enforcement activity.