Judge: Of­fi­cer fal­si­fied video

Pin­heiro con­victed of fab­ri­cat­ing ev­i­dence in ‘re-cre­ation’ ef­fort

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Kevin Rec­tor

A Bal­ti­more po­lice of­fi­cer was found guilty by a judge Fri­day of fab­ri­cat­ing ev­i­dence in a case in which his own body-cam­era footage showed him plac­ing drugs in a va­cant lot and then act­ing as if he had just dis­cov­ered them.

Dur­ing his trial, Of­fi­cer Richard Pin­heiro Jr. said that he in­ten­tion­ally recorded the body-cam­era video to serve as a re-cre­ation of a le­git­i­mate dis­cov­ery of heroin that he had made in a sim­i­lar man­ner — but failed to record — mo­ments ear­lier. He said the re-cre­ated video was for “doc­u­men­ta­tion” pur­poses.

Cir­cuit Judge Melissa Phinn did not ac­cept that ex­pla­na­tion, say­ing it was “with­out a doubt that he cre­ated the video to de­ceive” — namely in or­der to avoid be­ing dis­ci­plined for not record­ing his ini­tial dis­cov­ery of the drugs. And in find­ing Pin­heiro guilty of a sec­ond count of mis­con­duct in of­fice, Phinn said his ac­tions rep­re­sented a “will­ful abuse of his au­thor­ity for his own per­sonal gain.”

How­ever, Phinn also said she did not con­sider Pin­heiro “a bad per­son,” call­ing the day he recorded the video “an un­for­tu­nate day for every­body” and say­ing she did not be­lieve Pin­heiro de­served jail time.

She gave him a three-year sus­pended sen­tence and two years of su­per­vised pro­ba­tion, the sec­ond year of which will be switched to un­su­per­vised pro­ba­tion if he does not have any com­pli­ance is­sues dur­ing the first year. Pin­heiro must also per­form 300 hours of com­mu­nity ser­vice in Bal­ti­more.

Prior to sen­tenc­ing, Pin­heiro told the court he was sorry that he made the re-cre­ated video but was “only be­ing a proac­tive of­fi­cer” and “had no in­tent to de­ceive any­body.”

He de­clined to com­ment through an

at­tor­ney af­ter the sen­tenc­ing.

Deb­o­rah Levi, di­rec­tor of spe­cial lit­i­ga­tion for the Bal­ti­more pub­lic de­fender’s of­fice, which first made the footage pub­lic, called the ver­dict against Pin­heiro “an im­por­tant step for­ward” in hold­ing Bal­ti­more po­lice of­fi­cers ac­count­able for il­le­gal con­duct.

Bal­ti­more State’s At­tor­ney Mar­i­lyn Mosby, whose of­fice was crit­i­cized by de­fense coun­sel in the drug case last year for not ad­dress­ing the video more promptly, lauded the con­vic­tions and said it would con­tinue to ap­ply “one stan­dard of jus­tice” in Bal­ti­more.

“The ef­fec­tive­ness of the jus­tice sys­tem greatly de­pends on our ci­ti­zen’s con­fi­dence that the ev­i­dence col­lected by po­lice and pre­sented in court by the state is of high virtue and lacks cor­rup­tion,” Mosby said. “Un­for­tu­nately the ev­i­dence in this case proved oth­er­wise and we are pleased that the court saw fit to hold this Of­fi­cer ac­count­able for his ac­tions.”

Pin­heiro re­mains on the force. Un­der Mary­land law, of­fi­cers are only re­moved au­to­mat­i­cally if con­victed of a felony. Fab­ri­cat­ing ev­i­dence and mis­con­duct in of­fice are both mis­de­meanors.

Po­lice spokesman Matt Jablow said Fri­day that Pin­heiro re­mains sus­pended with pay pend­ing the con­clu­sion of an In­ter­nal Af­fairs in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Any ad­di­tional dis­ci­pline, in­clud­ing po­ten­tial sep­a­ra­tion from the depart­ment, could only come if Pin­heiro is found guilty by fel­low of­fi­cers of vi­o­lat­ing depart­ment poli­cies at an ad­min­is­tra­tive trial board. Jablow de­clined to com­ment oth­er­wise.

David Rocah, se­nior staff at­tor­ney at the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of Mary­land, said he “can­not imag­ine a more screwed-up, id­i­otic way of try­ing to man­age a po­lice depart­ment or any other pub­lic of­fice.”

“On what planet is it not ridicu­lous that an of­fi­cer is con­victed in a court of law, be­yond a rea­son­able doubt, of hav­ing fab­ri­cated ev­i­dence, and yet we have to con­tinue pay­ing him to not do his job and can’t ter­mi­nate him — even though his cred­i­bil­ity is per­ma­nently de­stroyed — un­less a panel of other po­lice of­fi­cers de­cide that they agree?” Rocah said.

Po­lice re­form ad­vo­cates have pushed leg­is­la­tion for yearsto change state law to al­low po­lice de­part­ments to fire of­fi­cers con­victed of mis­de­meanors, with­out suc­cess.

The guilty find­ings and sen­tenc­ing in A screen grab from Bal­ti­more Po­lice Depart­ment body cam­era footage shows an of­fi­cer find­ing drugs in a cigar­illo bag. Pin­heiro’s case came just hours af­ter at­tor­neys gave their clos­ing ar­gu­ments.

Chaz Ball, Pin­heiro’s at­tor­ney, ar­gued that Pin­heiro had sim­ply for­got­ten to record his ini­tial dis­cov­ery out of his ea­ger­ness to solve the drug case he was work­ing on, and was “an hon­est of­fi­cer who made an hon­est mis­take.”

As­sis­tant State’s At­tor­ney Stacy Ann Llewellyn dis­missed Ball’s assess­ment, ar­gu­ing that Pin­heiro not only made no ef­fort to note the true na­ture of the re-cre­ation video — while record­ing it or af­ter­ward to his su­per­vi­sors — but took steps to make the re-cre­ated video seem as authen­tic as pos­si­ble.

“We’re here be­cause he was not hon­est about his mis­take,” Llewellyn said. Such con­duct, she said, is “flatly il­le­gal.”

The case made na­tional news when de­fense coun­sel re­leased the body-cam­era footage in the sum­mer of 2017. Against a back­drop of ram­pant po­lice mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions else­where in the depart­ment, de­fense coun­sel al­leged that Pin­heiro had been caught red-handed plant­ing drugs. The con­tro­versy was fur­ther stoked with the re­lease of two other body-cam­era videos, from sep­a­rate in­ci­dents, that de­fense coun­sel said raised sim­i­lar ques­tions about of­fi­cers’ ma­nip­u­la­tion of ev­i­dence.

Po­lice, in­clud­ing then- Com­mis­sioner Kevin Davis, pushed back against the nar­ra­tive that of­fi­cers were “plant­ing” ev­i­dence, and early on de­scribed a sce­nario in which a “re-cre­ation” may have oc­curred.

Pros­e­cu­tors dropped the heroin-pos­ses­sion charge against the man ar­rested in the case, who was un­able to post $50,000 bail and was held in jail for more than six months. And in Jan­uary, they charged Pin­heiro.

Pros­e­cu­tors fo­cused less on the drugs, which they did not sug­gest were planted, and more on the video, which they said was a fake.

On Fri­day, Llewellyn ar­gued that Pin­heiro “con­cealed the truth” be­cause he “didn’t want to get dinged” ad­min­is­tra­tively for not hav­ing his cam­era on dur­ing the ini­tial dis­cov­ery of the drugs — which the video showed him tak­ing out of a soup can in a trash-strewn ally. “He only cared about him­self,” Llewellyn said.

Pin­heiro’s dis­re­gard had ram­i­fi­ca­tions for the man ar­rested for the drugs, Llewellyn said.

Pin­heiro and a team of other of­fi­cers were on the street that day as part of an op­er­a­tion that in­cluded covert sur­veil­lance. That sur­veil­lance led them to an­other stash of drugs in the area: a bag of pills con­tain­ing heroin, but one that was tied up.

Llewellyn said the fact that the bag was tied up was not help­ful to the case against the man be­ing ar­rested, who was be­ing ac­cused of street deal­ing, be­cause deal­ers who push pills from a nearby stash like the one found nor­mally leave them un­tied, for quick ac­cess to the drugs.

The sec­ond bag that Pin­heiro al­legedly found in the al­ley was un­tied, bol­ster­ing the of­fi­cers’ case, Llewellyn said.

Pin­heiro made no ef­fort to en­sure that the man ar­rested and his de­fense team would be told that the video was “not a real-time re­cov­ery of the sec­ond stash,” which would have been crit­i­cal to their de­fense and which Pin­heiro had an “af­fir­ma­tive duty” to dis­close, she said.

“An of­fi­cer can’t cre­ate ev­i­dence to sup­port what his tes­ti­mony is go­ing to be at trial, be­cause that is just wrong,” Llewellyn said.

Ball ar­gued that Pin­heiro was hon­est about the na­ture of the video when con­tacted by pros­e­cu­tors, and has since been hon­est about the in­ci­dent. He said body cam­eras were still “rel­a­tively new” at the time, and Pin­heiro’s only in­ten­tion was to pro­vide doc­u­men­ta­tion for a good bit of po­lice work that he mis­tak­enly failed to record.

That fail­ure “doesn’t change the fact that there was a drug deal that took place,” Ball said.

He said Pin­heiro had no in­tent to de­ceive, lie or “im­pair the ver­ity” or truth­ful­ness of the ev­i­dence he was pre­sent­ing — an ele­ment of the charges against him that the state had the bur­den to prove.

In fact, Ball ar­gued, Pin­heiro’s re-cre­ated video was true to re­al­ity — re­flect­ing the cor­rect way in which the ev­i­dence was found, the cor­rect amount of drugs, the cor­rect type of drugs, and even the cor­rect fash­ion in which the drugs had been con­cealed in the ally — and not in plain view — at the time of their re­cov­ery. That shows Pin­heiro’s in­tent to be hon­est, he said.

“The video doesn’t im­pair the truth. The video shows the truth,” Ball said.

If any­thing, Ball said, the man ar­rested on the day the drugs were re­cov­ered ben­e­fited from Pin­heiro’s video, given that it led to his case be­ing dropped by pros­e­cu­tors.

Llewellyn called the idea that the ar­rested man had ben­e­fited “out­ra­geous,” and said Pin­heiro’s ac­tions “com­pro­mised the in­tegrity of the whole process” of pros­e­cut­ing the ar­rested man.

“When things are fake and fraud­u­lent, when they are fab­ri­cated, they are a lie,” Llewellyn said. “It’s a lie.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.