BALTIMORE >> A grand jury has indicted a Baltimore police officer on charges of fabricating evidence and misconduct months after public defenders released a body camera video that they say shows him planting drugs in an empty soup can.
Baltimore’s body-worn cameras save roughly 30 seconds of preceding video without audio whenever the devices are activated, so it’s possible Officer Richard Pinheiro may have inadvertently recorded more than he intended to.
The released video has no sound as an officer appears to put the can in a trash-strewn lot and then return to two colleagues nearby. The audio then begins once the officer’s fingers are seen in the camera lens and he walks down an alley to a sidewalk.
“I’m gonna go check here,” he tells the other two officers as he returns to the lot, picks through some trash and then appears to discover the soup can, pulling out a baggie with white capsules inside. “Yo!” and “Hold up,” he says before rejoining his colleagues.
State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby described the grand jury indictment today as “another example of our office applying justice fairly and equally.”
Defense attorney Michael Davey, said Pinheiro, 29, was simply trying to document how he had recovered evidence the officers had already found. He accused Mosby’s office of “overreach” in prosecuting a police officer.
After the Public Defender’s office released the video last July, then-Police Commissioner Kevin Davis suspended Pinheiro’s police powers and put the other two on administrative duty. But he cautioned against a rush to judgment, also suggesting that it may have been a reenactment of a crime scene, even if that would be “inconsistent with the way that police officers do business.”
Davis later clarified that re-enactments are against department policy as hundreds of drug cases across the city fell apart. The public defender’s office has said the man who was jailed that day on drug charges also was freed after months in jail.
Last week, after a record year in per-capita homicides, Baltimore’s mayor fired Davis after 2½ years on the job. And today, police spokesman T.J. Smith said policies changed after the video came to light “to ensure a clear understanding of when and how long the body-worn camera should be activated.”
Smith said Baltimore officers must now keep their cameras on from the beginning of an event until that event is concluded and they have left the scene.
Mosby’s office also announced today that it will not charge three other Baltimore police officers who were separately accused of being caught on body-camera video planting evidence last year.
In January 2017, Baltimore entered into a court-enforceable agreement to reform its police department after the U.S. Justice Department discovered longstanding patterns of excessive force, unlawful arrests and discriminatory police practices.