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Baltimore police officer indicted for tampering with evidence

A Baltimore City Grand Jury indicted a police officer this week for police misconduct and tampering with evidence....

Posted: Jan. 26, 2018 8:31 AM
Updated: Jan. 26, 2018 8:31 AM

A Baltimore City Grand Jury indicted a police officer this week for police misconduct and tampering with evidence.

Body-worn camera footage released by the Baltimore Public Defender's office in July 2017 spurred a State's Attorney's Office investigation that led to the charges.

This comes as eight other, now former, BPD officers who were indicted on federal racketeering charges are in the thick of a trial, and a week after Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh replaced the police commissioner.

Officer Richard Pinheiro, 29, indicted Tuesday, has been suspended without pay since the footage came to light in July and will continue to be for the during of court proceedings, according to Baltimore Police spokesman T.J. Smith.

Officer Pinheiro could face up to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Pinheiro's attorney, Michael Davey, did not immediately respond to CNN for comment. Pinheiro joined BPD in 2011, according to Baltimore City records.

"Officer Pinheiro simply tried to document the recovery of evidence with his body-worn camera that he had previously recovered," Davey told the Baltimore Sun. "This is just another overreach by the Baltimore State's Attorney's Office, and an attempt to prosecute a police officer when there's no evidence to do so."

The other two officers present at the scene on January 24, 2017 are not being disciplined by BPD in connection to the incident caught on body-worn camera footage, according to a Smith. No charges have been brought against the officers, according to the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office.

State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby said the indictment "is another example of our office applying justice fairly and equally."

The video

According to Mosby's Office, Pinheiro used body-worn camera footage "in order to impair the verity of the physical evidence with the intent to deceive."

The video shows the officer placing a plastic bag into a food can, then partially hiding it under a piece of debris. Thirty seconds later the audio begins, and the officer says, "I'm going to check here. Hold on," as his colleagues laugh. The officer then gives a cursory look at other items in the debris-strewn lot and appears to stumble onto the drugs in the can.

"Yo!" the officer shouts at his colleagues as he holds up the small cellophane bag containing several pills. One of his colleagues shouts back, "What's up?" The video ends a few seconds later.

As the officer searches the lot for evidence, a colleague can be heard saying, "Is that 30?" -- possibly a reference to the way the body-worn cameras operate. They record 30 seconds of video without sound before an officer actively turns on the camera, according to the manufacturer Axon. Referred to as a buffer, it's meant to capture crucial evidence that might occur just before an officer activates his camera.

When the video first came to light, now ousted Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis called the video sought to allay public concern "a serious allegation of police misconduct," saying, "Our investigation will ultimately determine what happened, it will identify if any criminal misconduct took place, any administrative procedures were violated, and we're determined to get to the bottom of it."

Police said the arrest involved a drug sale that led to the discovery of two bags of heroin in gel capsule form. One bag was tied off, and the second was opened and recovered by officers at the scene.

A history of police misconduct

Since the summer of 2017, Baltimore City State's Attorney Mosby's Office has been investigating three separate body-worn camera incidents for police misconduct.

Mosby's office has been forced to throw out cases involving some of the officers involved in the incidents caught on tape. A total of 569 other cases may be affected, according to Mosby's office.

In a press release Wednesday the state's attorney announced that one of the videos in question, an incident on June 17, 2017, has been dismissed. The Baltimore Public Defender's Office accused the officers in the incident of re-enacting the recovery of drugs, but Mosby's office dismissed the case, citing "insufficient evidence."

The Baltimore State's Attorney's Office is now considering reinstating an old policy of a "do not call" list.

Historically, a "do not call" list was a list of BPD officers that prosecutors would avoid calling to the witness stand in a trial due to an officer's questionable credibility, an official in Mosby's office told CNN.

The videos come as the department, long plagued by charges of corruption, has struggled to restore public confidence. Eight officers were federally charged last year with robbing citizens, filing false reports and claiming overtime fraudulently. Four of those now-former officers have pleaded guilty and the trial is presently on going.

As of November 22, 2017, approximately 277 cases have been or will be impacted by the actions of all of those officers, according to Mosby's office.

Shortly after the charges came down, the commissioner said that the department would be ending plainclothes policing, telling The Baltimore Sun he was concerned that their methods "accelerated a cutting-corners mindset."

Since 2011, Baltimore has paid out more than $13 million to settle lawsuits alleging police misconduct. In April, a federal judge approved a consent decree after a Justice Department report found a wide racial disparity in the way the Baltimore police treat citizens.

"Our office has worked diligently to break down barriers of distrust in the criminal justice system, and we take our oath and our responsibility to keep the community informed with accurate information very seriously," State's Attorney Mosby said.

Officer Pinheiro's case will be prosecuted by the Public Trust and Police Integrity Unit.

His arraignment is scheduled for February 13 in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

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