Baltimore Cops Caught Turning Off Body Cameras Before ‘Finding’ Drugs

For the second time in two weeks, the city’s police department is accused of planting incriminating evidence.

Drew Angerer/Getty

Baltimore police spent 30 minutes searching a car for drugs but found nothing—until they turned off their body cameras.

When the cameras turned back on, one cop was seen squatting next to the driver’s side where another officer immediately found drugs.

Police arrested two people in the apparent drug bust. But police might have been betrayed by their own body cameras, the public defender’s office announced Monday. Apparently unbeknownst to the officers, the cameras were rolling when one officer squatted in front of the empty driver’s seat. Another officer “found” a bag of drugs there moments later. The footage is the second body camera video in two weeks to apparently show Baltimore Police officers planting drugs on an otherwise-innocent scene.

Two weeks ago, the public defender’s office released body camera footage that appeared to show an officer planting a bag of pills in an empty lot in January, while two other officers looked on. The footage prompted Baltimore prosecutors on Friday to drop 34 drug and weapons cases connected to the three officers captured on camera.

The newest footage, announced on Monday, comes from a separate incident involving at least seven other police officers. The footage, which has not been released to the public, is said to show officers conspiring to fudge their body camera records and plant drugs in a car, the public defender’s office said.

It was described to The Daily Beast on Tuesday.

“A series of body worn camera videos show multiple officers searching a car, including the front driver side area,” said public defender’s office spokesperson Melissa Rothstein. “After the car has been thoroughly searched, the officers turn off their body cameras and reactivate them. When the cameras come back on one officer is seen squatting by the driver’s seat area. The group of officers then wait approximately 30 seconds.”

Baltimore police use cameras that retain 30 seconds of silent footage prior to an officer pressing the record button. The silent period, known as a “buffer,” is supposed to show the moments before an officer flagged an incident as noteworthy.

“Shortly thereafter, another officer asks if the area by that compartment has been searched.  Nobody responds, and the officer reaches in and locates a bag that appears to contain drugs right by where the prior officer was, and where the car had been thoroughly searched about a half an hour prior with absolutely no results.”

The officers’ 30-second wait could prove particularly damning. It’s the same time delay that tripped up the three other officers who were apparently captured planting drugs in the first body camera video released by the public defender’s office last month.

The video released last month appears to show police manufacturing a crime. While the silent “buffer” footage was rolling during a January patrol, Baltimore Police officer Richard Pinheiro appeared to a bag of pills in a can in an empty lot while officers Hovhannes Simonyan and Jamal Brunson looked on.

Pinheiro returned to the street and stood with Simonyan and Brunson before activating his camera.

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“I’m gonna go check here,” Pinheiro announced, walking into the lot where he had apparently just planted the drugs. After a few moments of searching, he found the can with its hidden bag of pills.

Baltimore Police have since suspended Pinheiro and placed Simonyan and Brunson on desk duty. The department said it was investigating the body camera footage of the officers involved in the drug search on the car.

“The police department works closely with the Office of the Public Defender and the State's Attorney's Office,” Baltimore Police spokesperson T.J. Smith told The Daily Beast. “Anytime an allegation of misconduct is made, we take it seriously and investigate it fully. Right now, we are investigating the allegation that was brought forth by the Office of the Public Defender and the State's Attorney's Office.”

The Baltimore Police body camera program is still relatively young. The department began equipping officers with body cameras in spring 2016, following the death of Freddie Gray, an unarmed black man who died of spinal cord injuries after his arrest by Baltimore officers, and whose death prompted widespread calls for greater police accountability. Though eyewitnesses accused Gray’s arresting officers of unnecessary force, none of the six officers charged with Gray’s death were convicted. Nine hundred Baltimore Police officers had body cameras as of April, the Sun reported.

The case against the two people arrested during the drug bust have been dropped, the public defender’s office announced Monday.

But the office claims Baltimore Police brass are letting some officers off easy.“While today's dismissed case involved at least seven officers, the State’s Attorney's Officeconfirmed that it has only referred two officers to Internal Affairs,” the public defender’s office said in a statement.