The Baltimore police officer whose body camera appeared to catch him planting drugs was charged this week with evidence tampering.
Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that a grand jury indicted officer Richard Pinheiro. Officials have confirmed that the drugs in the video were used to implicate a defendant who was scheduled to face trial in July 2017.
Pinheiro was charged with "tampering with or fabricating physical evidence" involving "body worn camera footage in order to impair the verity of the physical evidence with the intent to deceive" and "common law misconduct in office" involving "a wrongful and improper act in the performance of his official duties."
For the tampering charge, a misdemeanor, Pinheiro could face up to three years in prison. The official misconduct charge is a Maryland common law offense, which means the court is free to impose any penalty that is not seen as cruel and unusual punishment.
In the January 2017 video, Pinheiro appears to place a bag of pills under some garbage in an alley. He then walks back out to the street, at which point he activates the body camera. But because the cameras are programmed to capture video 30 seconds before activation, the officer’s actions before returning from the alley were recorded.
“I’m going to check here,” Pinheiro can be heard saying, before he walks back down the alley. After furrowing around in the trash for a couple seconds, the officer locates the bag inside a soup can and exclaims “yo!” as he holds it up to his two fellow officers. Those officers were identified to BuzzFeed News by the Maryland public defender's office as officers Jamal Brunson and Jovannes Simonyan.
“As State’s Attorney, I’ve made a pledge to apply one standard of justice for all. It's critical we remain transparent throughout the process to the extent the law allows as we continue to rebuild community trust,” Mosby said in a statement. “Yesterday’s indictment is another example of our office applying justice fairly and equally."
The defendant who was arrested in the incident was scheduled to face trial in July 2017, but the charges were dropped after the man’s public defender reviewed the video and alerted the prosecutor.
Deborah Katz Levi, assistant public defender for Baltimore's felony division, told BuzzFeed News that the attorney representing the defendant charged in the case discovered the video footage while reviewing material "on the eve of trial" and alerted the state's attorney's office.
After the video was made public, a spokesperson for Baltimore State's Attorney told BuzzFeed News that an attorney in their office learned about "what appeared to be troubling activity by a Baltimore police officer" last Friday and "took immediate and appropriate actions by dropping the case and alerting his supervisor."
The public defender's office confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the prosecutor had offered a plea deal to their client while the damning video evidence was in their possession. However, it is unclear whether attorneys for the prosecution viewed the video before offering a plea deal.
The public defender's office called for a review of all cases involving the three officers. BuzzFeed News contacted the officers' union about the allegations but never heard back. The public defender's office told BuzzFeed News that Pinheiro is believed to be a witness in approximately 53 active cases.
“We take allegations like this very seriously and that’s why we launched an internal investigation into the accusations," a spokesperson for the Baltimore Police said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. "We are fortunate to have body-worn cameras which provide a perspective of the events as reported.”
Mosby also announced that her office was declining to charge three other officers in a separate June 2017 incident captured by body-worn cameras showing an alleged reenactment of a drug discovery. The state's attorney's office said that an investigation of the incident confirmed “that the acts on the video were just the recovery of drugs and there is nothing false or fraudulent in the [body-worn camera] videos that would deceive or mislead a reasonable person” or rise to the level of “criminal culpability.”