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Baltimore grand jury indicts officer involved in controversial body camera incident

This still from body camera footage captured by Officer Richard Pinheiro in January shows him holding a bag with drugs he found inside a can in a vacant Baltimore lot - a can Pinheiro himself apparently planted based on body camera footage seconds earlier.

This still from body camera footage captured by Officer Richard Pinheiro in January shows him holding a bag with drugs he found inside a can in a vacant Baltimore lot – a can Pinheiro himself apparently planted based on body camera footage seconds earlier.

A Baltimore city grand jury has indicted a police officer on charges of tampering with or fabricating evidence and misconduct in office based on body worn camera footage that surfaced last year appearing to show him placing drugs on the ground then activating his camera and capturing their discovery.

The footage appeared to show Officer Richard A. Pinheiro Jr. place a can with a plastic bag inside onto the trash-strewn lot, walk back to the street, activate his camera and return to the lot and discover the drugs.

Pinheiro’s attorney, Michael E. Davey, said Wednesday the defense team has reviewed the video and does not believe their client broke the law.

“This was simply an officer who failed or forgot to turn on his body worn camera to record the recovery of evidence and went back and did that,” said Davey, of Schlachman, Belsky & Weiner, P.A. in Baltimore. “It’s an example of the State’s Attorney’s Office overreaching, trying to find a crime against a police officer when it simply doesn’t exist.”

Pinheiro was monitoring a suspected drug-trafficking area with other officers last January when they saw two people step inside an alley then return, according to reports. Body cameras recorded the stops of both individuals as well as a search of the yard off the alley for additional contraband where officers located a bag with capsules of heroin. The video picks up five minutes later with a second discovery, believed to have been fabricated or reenacted.

The body cameras used by the department save 30 seconds of video prior to activation.

The indictment was handed down Tuesday and announced Wednesday by the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office.

“As State’s Attorney, I’ve made a pledge to apply one standard of justice for all,” State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said in a statement. “It’s critical we remain transparent throughout the process to the extent the law allows as we continue to rebuild community trust.”

The public defender in the case notified prosecutors about the footage on the eve of trial and the charges were dropped. Cases involving Pinheiro and the other officers were evaluated and hundreds were dismissed over the following weeks and months.

Pinheiro has had his police powers suspended since the video was reported and has been in an administrative role which he will likely continue because he was not charged with a felony, according to Davey.

The state’s attorney’s office Wednesday also announced other officers involved in a separate incident of alleged evidence recovery reenactment were not charged due to insufficient evidence. Prosecutors in June released a report detailing the investigation into that incident.

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