Shocking footage from a Baltimore police officer’s body-worn camera appears to show the cop planting drugs at the scene of a crime that officials have confirmed was used to implicate a defendant scheduled to face trial on the charges this week.
In the January 2017 video, Baltimore Police Officer Richard 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 the 30 seconds prior to 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, identified to BuzzFeed News by the Maryland public defender's office as officers Jamal Brunson and Jovannes Simonyan.
The defendant who was arrested in connection with the false drug bust was scheduled to face trial this week, Fox Baltimore first reported, 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.
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.
In a more troubling development, Levi says, the public defender's office learned this week that after they revealed the footage of Officer Pinheiro to prosecutors, the state's attorney's office used the officer as a trial witness in a different case.
Levi says that the trial attorney for the public defender in that case questioned Officer Pinheiro about the video and he testified that he didn't recall the events. That case resulted in a not guilty verdict.
Levi confirmed that the public defender's office is calling for a review of all cases involving the three officers. BuzzFeed News has contacted the officers' union about the allegations. Her office said in a press release Wednesday 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.”
The Baltimore State's Attorney's office also confirmed that the incident is under investigation and was referred to BPD's internal affairs bureau.
Cora Lewis contributed to this report.