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Body Cam Mistakes Or More Police Misconduct?

By Bryan Crawford -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Aug 14, 2017 - 2:42:45 PM

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Baltimore Police video frame shows suspected drug planting. Photo: MGN Online

Since the Department of Justice investigated the Baltimore Police Department and concluded in August 2016 that the rights of Baltimore City residents, especially the Black ones, were routinely and repeatedly violated, both the city and the police department have been under fire. The city of Baltimore and the Justice Dept. signed a consent decree, which aimed to institute police reforms to help restore the trust and confidence of a community that felt targeted and threatened.

One of the reforms in the 227-page consent decree agreement was the issuing of body cameras to 500 Baltimore Police Department officers at a cost of $11.6 million. Body cams are supposed to ensure the integrity of engagements between police officers and citizens, while also protecting the rights of both parties.

However, it seems that even with the use of mandatory body cameras, the Baltimore Police Department could be  engaging in a pattern of deceitful and inappropriate activities. Multiple videos appear to show Baltimore police officers planting and manufacturing evidence to justify arrests and recorded by their own body cameras.

“The credibility of those officers has now been directly called into question,” Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said in a July 28 press briefing after the videos went viral.

The first case involved a Black woman, Shamere Collins, who was pulled over by Baltimore police on November 29, 2016. The body cam video shows police doing a thorough search of the vehicle Ms. Collins was in and admittedly stating that nothing was found in the car. However, 40 minutes later, another officer conducts a search of the automobile and finds both marijuana and heroin. Ms. Collins was arrested and charged by police, but she was soon exonerated after the body cam video was reviewed by prosecutors who then quickly threw out all the charges and dismissed her case.

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In another incident in January of this year, the body camera of Officer Richard Pinheiro recorded him apparently planting drugs at the scene of the July 2016 arrest of 26-year-old Dominque Reed. Mr. Reed was charged with attempted distribution of narcotics and two counts of possession of narcotics. He had been jailed since his arrest and was being held on $50,000 bail until review of Officer Pinheiro’s body cam footage. Charges against Mr. Reed were dropped on August 4, 2017, although he is still being held for violating probation in another case.

Mr. Pinheiro was suspended and the two other officers on the scene with him that day, were placed on administrative leave. In both situations, gaps in recordings off the officer issued body cams led to suspicions that the arrests weren’t made with full integrity.

The videos were discovered by the Baltimore City Office of the Public Defender during the discovery phase of the cases involving Ms. Collins and Mr. Reed. Ms. Mosby stated that while prosecutors have been diligently poring over video to ensure that no other similar situations have occurred, she seemed to suggest that perhaps user error on the part of the officers, as well as the relative newness of the body camera program by the Baltimore police, may have contributed to these unfortunate outcomes for those falsely arrested and charged.

“This is kind of a learning and a trial period, right?” Ms. Mosby asked somewhat rhetorically. “All of the body-worn cameras haven’t even been implemented, and I think that we’re going to go through growing pains.”

Pastor Jamal Bryant of Empowerment Temple AME Church, who helped former Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake conduct the due diligence on the body cam program for the police, sees the issue as much more than growing pains on the part of police.

“These recent developments involving the Baltimore Police Department isn’t a black eye, it’s a fractured ribcage,” Pastor Bryant told The Final Call. “When I saw the videos, I was disappointed, but not surprised because Black people in Baltimore have known for a long time that the police do these things. It’s just sad that Black people in the 21st century are still having to fight against 19th century ignorance.”

Pastor Bryant also feels that Ms. Mosby may not be well-equipped to effectively deal with the situation because she is the Baltimore State’s Attorney and the police department is her partner to solve crimes.

“It’s hard to protest what you partner with,” Pastor Bryant said. “In order for her to do her job, she has to work with the police department and the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police). I think she’s tried to extend a sort of olive branch to the police, while remaining the people’s champion. So, she has to walk an extremely thin tightrope to do both.”

Regardless of the positions of the city of Baltimore, the police department, and the State’s Attorney’s office, both cases have shined a new light on a city and its police, which had vowed to clean up its act in an agreement with the Federal Government; an agreement that appears to have already been broken.

“Even before the cameras were implemented, there were people in law enforcement who were very nervous about what these cameras might capture,” Charles Robinson, a Maryland Public Television reporter, told The Final Call. “And what these videos have shown is the underside of police activity.”

“The Baltimore City States Attorney’s Office referred two officers to Internal Affairs as we had questions concerning their Body Worn Camera videos,” said Melba Saunders, a Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office spokeswoman, in a statement. “Before we blanketly characterize their behavior as deceptive and or a credibility issue, we referred the matter to the Internal Affairs Division of the Baltimore Police Department.”

Unfortunately, the statement by Ms. Saunders offers little to no solace for Baltimore residents who are acutely aware that even with body cams in place, being treated unfairly, or even victimized by the police, is still a daily reality.

“There are major integrity issues within the Baltimore police department,” Rev. C.D. Witherspoon of Faith Church Baltimore, told The Final Call. “I was somewhat overjoyed and elated that we were able to get these acts on camera because we’ve heard many times from many people that these situations take place. When I think about Michael Brown or Eric Garner, we as Black people know that even when there is footage, oftentimes, the criminal justice system still fails us. But these videos set a good precedent for there to be visual depictions of what we’ve been talking about for so long—not just in Baltimore, but across the country in dealing with issues of police brutality.”

 

Andrew Muhammad, student Fruit of Islam captain of Mosque No. 6 in Baltimore, told The Final Call that the residents of Baltimore City wanted the body cams put in place so there would be actual proof of police misusing and abusing their power.

“The community wanted the cameras, but when they see situations like this, it continues to breed distrust,” Mr. Muhammad said. “What these officers have done is made the situation between the police and the community worse with the planting of these drugs. As much as I try to look at things from both sides—the law enforcement side and the civilian side—this situation just isn’t right and I understand why the city is in uproar about it.”

The Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s office has either dropped or is in agreement to drop 41 felony gun and drug cases involving the officers present during the arrest of Ms. Collins, with 55 more being reviewed at present. All told, as many as 123 cases are currently being looked at to ensure that there aren’t more cases similar to the ones that have been made public recently.

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