When it comes to fighting the War on Drugs, many law enforcement officers in the United States have stacked the deck. It is not uncommon for cops to resort to unnecessary violence just to bust someone over a joint, and occasionally an officer plants evidence.
Fortunately, thanks to modern technology, more and more of these uniformed thugs are getting nailed to the wall.
Recently, CBS2 News obtained a video from an incident that took place back in April, showing an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department planting drugs on a man during a traffic stop. The video shows LAPD Officer Gaxiola pick up a small bag of what appears to be cocaine and stash it in the wallet of 52-year-old Ronald Shields.
“He has a little bag of narco in here,” Gaxiola says several times in the video.
At the end of the day, Shields was charged with felony cocaine possession, which comes with a penalty of up to three years in a state penitentiary. His case is set to go before a jury.
Gaxiola and another officer, Samuel Lee, both of whom can be seen communicating throughout the video without much verbalization, initially testified that the cocaine was discovered in Shields’ front left pocket while investigating him in connection to a hit-and-run.
But the video discredits this claim.
The footage was pulled from Officer Gaxiola’s body cam.
Attorney Steve Levine, who is representing Shields in this matter, says he believes the officer failed to take into consideration that the camera actually starts recording 30 seconds before the point when the device is switched on. And, as CBS Investigative Reporter David Goldstein pointed out in his report, the planting of the cocaine in Shield’s wallet seems to take place during those 30 seconds.
“The drugs were certainly planted,” Levine said last week during a pretrial hearing. “If not for the body cam video, my client would be convicted of a crime he didn’t commit.”
Levine is asking the court to toss the cocaine out of evidence.
“I believe the video shows the drugs were in his [Gaxiola’s] right hand and transfers to his left hand,” he told the court.
But after reviewing the video, the judge presiding over the case claimed not to notice any underhanded shenanigans from the two officers during their interaction with Shields.
That being said, the officers are apparently feeling the heat of the situation.
When the body cam footage was shown to the judge last week, Lee left the courtroom. Then, when CBS’s Goldstein questioned the two officers outside the court, asking them about why they planted cocaine on Shields, both offered “no comment.”
Shortly after CBS2 aired its segment on the alleged actions of the two officers, the LAPD announced a formal internal investigation.
“The LAPD takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and, as in all cases, will conduct a thorough investigation to determine whether the alleged actions are supported by reliable evidence,” the statement reads.
Even Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti chimed in on the case, saying he “expects the highest integrity from everyone who wears the badge.”
This is the first time since the LAPD began using body cams that an officer’s footage has fallen into the hands of the media. Depending on the outcome of this case, it is possible that people convicted of cocaine possession after being busted by these officers might have grounds for an appeal.
The case is set to resume in December.
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