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Third body camera ‘reenactment’ reported to Baltimore prosecutors this month

When the Prince George’s County Police Department pilot program launches this year, one squad of 10 officers from each of the county’s seven districts will be outfitted with body cameras. PGPD will use the Panasonic Aribtrator, a chest-mounted body-worn camera. (J.F. Meils/ Capital News Service via AP)

A Panasonic Aribtrator, a chest-mounted body-worn camera. (J.F. Meils/ Capital News Service via AP)

The Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office announced another round of dropped charges Monday after police self-reported a questionable body-worn camera incident in early August.

The most recent video was reported to prosecutors Aug. 2 as “a reenactment of the seizure of evidence,” and prosecutors have since identified 101 active and adjudicated cases involving those officers, of which 43 are being dropped, according to a news release.

But defense attorneys did not learn of the video’s existence until Monday’s news release according to Deborah K. Levi, head of the Baltimore Office of the Public Defender Special Litigation Section.

The video is the third to surface since mid-July, when the public defender’s office alerted prosecutors of video appearing to show officers staging the recovery of drugs. In all, more than 150 cases involving the officers implicated in the three videos have been or will be dropped as of Friday, with additional cases still under investigation, prosecutors said Monday.

All known questionable body camera activity is currently under investigation by internal affairs.

“The body-worn camera program was established to fight crime, better protect officers, and foster public trust,” State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said in a prepared statement. “Whether planting evidence, re-enacting the seizure of evidence or prematurely turning off the department-issued body-worn camera, those actions misrepresent the truth and undermine public trust.”

Reviewing the evidence

The State’s Attorney’s Office has “been forced to employ significant resources” to evaluate the questionable body camera incidents since last month, according to the release, and a total of 565 active and adjudicated cases stemming from all three incidents were identified for review.

But defense attorneys are still not clear about the review process, according to Levi, who asked July 25, through the Maryland Public Information Act, for a copy of the policies and procedures being implemented to examine impacted cases. Prosecutors responded Aug. 11 that “they have not been reduced to writing, and therefore cannot be produced to you,” according to correspondence provided to The Daily Record from the public defender’s office.

Prosecutors have been instructed to determine if the involved officers are “material witnesses whose testimony is essential for the prosecution of any case,” according to Monday’s news release. If so, those cases are being dropped; 66 cases were reviewed and determined to be viable so far.

A spokeswoman for the State’s Attorney’s Office was unable to provide details Monday about the disclosure policy in cases determined to be viable.

Defense attorneys argued last month that even officers implicated in the alleged misconduct are not a material witness to be called at trial, their involvement in any case should be disclosed to the defense as potentially exculpatory evidence.

“It is our position that the State’s Attorney’s Office’s decision to not call an officer as a witness does not relieve them of their burden to disclose exculpatory information and it is clear that impeachment evidence is exculpatory,” Levi said in July. “Under Brady, the rules of discovery and the special duties of prosecutors, they have an obligation to make timely disclosures of all exculpatory information.”

Word spread about the first incident last month via email lists once the public defender flagged the suspect video days before his client’s trial and defense attorneys alerted each other to not to settle cases involved the officers.

The public defender’s office made the footage public after the prosecutor’s office did not immediately announce a policy for reviewing those cases and one of the officers was called as a witness the following week with no disclosure to the defense attorney, though he was aware of the issue and cross-examined the officer about it.

The second incident was made public by defense attorney Joshua Insley on Aug. 1. More than 200 cases were identified for review involving those officers, according to Monday’s release. As many as 44 of those cases may be dropped so far, prosecutors.

Racketeering case

In addition to the three body camera incidents, the prosecutor’s office provided an update into the cases involving seven Baltimore Police Department officers indicted in a federal racketeering conspiracy.

The officers were members of the department’s firearms crime task force and are accused of falsely detaining people, stealing their money and property, and faking reports to cover it up. Two of the men pleaded guilty last month.

Nearly 300 active and closed cases dating back to 2015 were impacted by the indictment, according to the release, and 77 were dropped.

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