The way Baltimore Police officer Richard Pinheiro would tell it—and was going to tell it in court as recently as last week—he is the luckiest and wisest drug cop on the planet.
In order to make an arrest back in January, Pinheiro had to figure out where, in a trash-covered lot with thousands of possible hiding places, someone had hidden a bag of white capsules. Somehow, within seconds, Pinheiro managed to locate the offending drug-filled soup can stashed underneath a ladder.
Amazing! It was if Pineheiro had known where the drugs were all along—because he did.
He put them there.
In a colossal self-own, one with profound implications for both drug defendants in Baltimore and police accountability nationwide, Pinheiro was captured on video planting the drugs by his own body camera.
Footage shows officer placing drugs in trash; goes out to street, turns on camera, returns. Cams save 30 sec prior to activation, w/o sound pic.twitter.com/5ZW128lWFM
— Justin Fenton (@justin_fenton) July 19, 2017
Pinheiro, identified by Baltimore Police by name on Wednesday, has since been suspended pending an investigation.
Two other police officers—who stood and watched as Pinheiro subverted justice by attempting to frame a suspect—have since been removed from contact with the public, police said.
The man whose drugs the pills were alleged by police and prosecutors to be, 27-year old Tyrone Jones, has been in jail since his January arrest.
According to the New York Daily News, earlier this year, he was offered a plea bargain for his non-crime: 12 years in prison. Insisting he was innocent, he elected to stay behind bars (for lack of $50,000 in bail money, another prevalent issue in criminal justice in America) ahead of his trial date.
“His reaction was, ‘I told you I didn’t do it! I told you!’” said his sister, Sheena Taylor-Jones, in comments to the Daily News.
Lawyers for Jones were the first to notice the “irregularity” in Pinheiro’s body-cam footage. According to public defender Louis Curran, Pinheiro likely “mis-counted” the amount of time between the planting of the evidence and when he activated the camera.
“I guess that he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer,” Curran told the New York Daily News.
Body-worn video cameras are slowly becoming standard-issue equipment for police officers in America. Cops’ conduct and reliability have come into question in the smartphone era—after citizen-recorded video, time and time again, have contradicted police officers’ sworn statements.
Put another way, video cameras are one of the only ways citizens can be assured police aren’t lying—but, as Pinheiro tried to show, even evidence captured on video can be manipulated.
Pinheiro’s body camera has a “buffer mode,” in which it is always recording. Once the “record” button is pressed, the camera starts capturing audio and video—but video without an audio track from the last 30 seconds prior to the officer hitting record is also included.
In the video, Pinheiro can be seen shoving a plastic bag into a soup can as two other officers watch. Pinheiro then activates his camera, announces, “I’m gonna go check here,” and then, after a few seconds of dummy searching, goes right for the soup can and finds the drugs.
According to public defenders, Pinheiro is a witness in 53 other active cases. It wasn’t immediately clear how many people are currently serving time in jail or prison after convictions in cases in which Pinheiro provided evidence.
According to Baltimore attorney Deborah Levi, Pinheiro was called as a witness just a few days after defense attorneys told prosecutors about the video con job—and he was allowed to testify without disclosing his earlier mendacity.
“You can’t try a case with that guy and not tell anyone about it,” Levi told the Sun.
It’s also unclear if this is the first time Pinheiro tried to subvert justice.
Either way, according to incredulous police watchdogs, Pinheiro may have created a monumental problem for his department.
Pinheiro’s attempted frame-job “single handedly destroyed the credibility of every piece of video where BPD officers find contraband without a clear lead-in that negates the possibility of it being staged,” said David Rocah of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, in comments to the Baltimore Sun. “That’s quite a day’s work. And it shows the utterly corrosive effect that this kind of corruption has on public safety.”
Baltimore police have trouble with body cameras beyond attempts at malfeasance as ham-handed as Pinheiro’s. According to the Sun, cops failed to activate their cameras during 150 incidents in which recordings were mandatory.