While Orange County law enforcement has been dealing with its own evidence scandals, what has been happening in Baltimore, Maryland rips open the suspicions some have expressed for many years about law enforcement tampering with or planting evidence. Thanks to police body cameras, we are now witness to what appears to be outright manufacturing of evidence by the police, at least in Baltimore. There is no reason to believe that the Baltimore Police Department is the only law enforcement agency in the country that plays loose with the evidence.
Two incidents of police planting evidence in Baltimore have been recently exposed. In both instances, it is believed that the officers involved were not aware that their body camera was running at the time. Is this the tip of the iceberg?
The first exposure involved an incident in January where officers were investigating a drug suspect behind some empty row houses. Unbeknownst to the officer, his body camera was recording as he placed a plastic bag of drugs inside a can in the alley. He then manually turned on his body camera and announced to the other officers that he was going to check the alley. Lo and behold, he finds the can. The suspect was arrested and unable to post bail. It wasn’t until June when the defense attorney representing the suspect received and viewed the body cam footage that the acts of the officer were discovered. After six months in jail, the charges were dropped against the suspect after the body cam revelation.
The officer who is viewed planting the evidence has been suspended and the two other officers involved in the investigation and arrest of the suspect have been placed on desk duty while the apparent police misconduct is being investigated. The discovery has prompted a review of all criminal cases where the sole evidence relies on the credibility of the three officers involved in this incident.
The second incident, which was discovered shortly after the January incident was discovered, occurred in November of 2016. This incident involved a vehicle search after officers observed what they believed to be a passenger entering the car with a bag of drugs. The officers’ body cam videos show the officers searching the car but finding nothing. Then the officers turned off their body cameras. One of the officers, apparently unaware that his camera was recording is then shown squatting by the vehicle. That officer stands up and steps away. With their body cameras now turned back on, one of the officers goes to the location where the first officer had been squatting, squats down and pulls out a bag of drugs. At least seven officers were involved in this incident and it is believed that the officers coordinated the planting of the evidence. None of these officers were involved in the January incident. After this exposure, the prosecutor to drop the charges against the suspect.
To date Baltimore prosecutors have dismissed 41 cases that involved the three officers in the January incident. More dismissals are certainly coming and it could be a lot more considering that another seven officers were involved in the November act. The greater fallout is that the credibility of all officers in Baltimore is being questioned. By extension, police officers across the nation are suspect. Coupled with the high-profile police killings in recent years, all our police departments are losing the trust of the public.
The other lesson here is the importance of discovery of evidence in criminal cases. As was the case in the Orange County evidence scandal, one lone defense attorney fought for exculpatory evidence he believed the prosecutor was hiding. He was right. Every criminal case is about the evidence and when the evidence is manufactured or when the prosecutor withholds evidence because it doesn’t help their case, the defendant’s constitutional rights have been violated.
Orange County criminal defense attorney William Weinberg defends your rights. If you have been charged with a crime, contact Attorney Weinberg at (949) 474-8008 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.