Baltimore police have launched an investigation after an officer’s body-cam video appears to show a group of officers planting evidence.
The video, which is in relation to a drug arrest from January in Baltimore’s southwest district, shows an officer placing a plastic bag into a soup can, then placing it on the ground in what appears to be the side yard of a house. He is accompanied by two other officers.
The group then heads to the street, where the audio is then switched on. The officer is heard saying: “I’m going to check here,” before returning to the area where he placed the can.
He rummages around before finding the can and the bag which is full of white pills.
The Baltimore Sun reports that the body-worn cameras used by the police department have a feature which saves the video recording 30 seconds prior to switching the camera on, without audio. The audio component of the video starts exactly 30 seconds into the recording.
WATCH: Baltimore police comments on allegations of an officer planting evidence at a scene
The video was brought to light by the Public Defender’s office, which was representing the alleged drug dealer who was arrested in connection to the recording of the video.
Though the charges were dropped in that arrest, the officer involved, Richard Phiheiro, continues to testify as a witness in 53 active cases, including one early this week.
“We have long supported the use of police body cameras to help identify police misconduct, but such footage is meaningless if prosecutors continue to rely on these officers, especially if they do so without disclosing their bad acts,” Debbie Katz Levi, head of the Baltimore Public Defender’s Special Litigation Section, said in a release.
The Baltimore Police Department launched an investigation into the event, saying allegations of police misconduct is “about as serious as it gets.”
Police commissioner Kevin Davis also admitted the video is “inconsistent with the way police officers do business.”
In a news conference on Wednesday, Davis, along with deputy police commissioner Jason Johnson, showed the body cam footage of a traffic stop of an alleged drug buyer, and the arrest of the alleged drug dealer.
There was also footage of the officers searching the yard and finding one bag that contained 25 capsules of suspected heroin, Johnson explained.
The video that shows the alleged drug planting of a second bag of capsules takes place around five minutes after the other body cam footage ends, according to the video’s metadata.
According to the Baltimore police website, body cams “promote professionalism, accountability, and transparency by documenting officer performance and interactions with the public.”
But the public defender’s office says that only works when body cams are used properly.
“Body cameras have an important role to play in the oversight and accountability of police officers but only if they are used properly and the footage is taken seriously,” Levi said in the statement.
“Officers should not be able to decide when to turn the cameras on and off, and footage like what was presented here needs to result in immediate action by the State’s Attorney and the Police Department.”
Baltimore officers began wearing body cams in May 2016 and 47 videos were “forwarded to the Internal Affairs Section” for possible instances of officer misconduct in the first six months.
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