By Kevin Rector, Baltimore Sun (View article)
The Baltimore Public Defender’s office said Monday that it has a second police body-camera video that “appears to depict multiple officers working together to manufacture evidence.”
It said related charges against one of its clients were dropped Monday in Baltimore Circuit Court.
The same office recently released a body camera video that it said showed an officer planting a bag of drugs in a back yard as two other officers looked on. Police and prosecutors both launched investigations into that footage.
The police department suspended Officer Richard Pinheiro, whose camera was recording and who was handling the alleged drugs in the video, and placed the two others — Officers Hovhannes Simonyan and Jamal Brunson — on administrative duty.
The new video involves different officers, the public defender’s office said. The officers were not named.
Melissa Rothstein, a spokeswoman for the public defender’s office, said the latest video shows a co-defendant of her office’s client. That person is not represented by the public defender’s office. Therefore, the office is not releasing the footage, she said.
The public defender’s office said the related case that was dropped Monday involved seven officers, though Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby’s office has only referred two officers to the police department’s Internal Affairs division.
Melba Saunders, a spokeswoman for Mosby, confirmed prosecutors had referred two officers to Internal Affairs, saying they “had questions” about the video. But she also urged caution in assessing the officers’ actions “as deceptive and/or a credibility issue” before a thorough review is conducted.
“Pending the Baltimore Police Department’s investigation pertaining to the officer’s conduct, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office is requesting postponements on all cases involving the officers,” Saunders said. “We look forward to continuing the advancement and pursuit of justice for all.”
T.J. Smith, a police spokesman, said the new video is one of two mentioned by Mosby at a news conference last week. Mosby’s office declined to confirm that.
At last week’s news conference, Mosby announced the dismissal of felony drug and gun charges in 34 cases that rely on the testimony of Pinheiro, Simonyan and Brunson. She said 12 cases were moving forward on the strength of “independent corroborative evidence,” and that 77 cases were still being reviewed.
Mosby also said a second video had been flagged by prosecutors as potentially problematic, but declined to describe that video. She said it had been forwarded to Internal Affairs for review. Police said it “involves two arrests and the recovery of drugs from a car during a traffic stop.”
Police also said there is a gap in the video “before the final recovery of additional drugs” that is now being investigated. They did not say whether any officers had been reprimanded or had their status changed pending that investigation.
“The police department works closely with the Office of the Public Defender and the State’s Attorney’s Office,” Smith said in a statement. “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.”
Debbie Katz Levi, who heads the special litigation section in the Baltimore public defender office, slammed Mosby’s office for a “lack of transparency” about the number of videos of concern that have been found.
“The lack of transparency to the public and refusal to disclose to the defense both prejudices defendants and violates the prosecutor’s constitutional obligations,” Levi said. “Hundreds of individuals are awaiting trial on cases that rely on these officers, and hundreds more have likely been convicted based on their testimony.”