National News

Internal documents shed light on Baltimore body camera scandal

Posted August 10

— In the more than two and a half hours of video in 16 different clips, it is edited parts of 50 seconds that have framed an explosive narrative, the allegation that for the second time in two weeks a Baltimore Police Officer seems to have planted evidence.

The allegation is fueled by the turning off and turning back on of police body worn cameras during a traffic stop of two suspects in Southeast Baltimore in late November of last year.

It was a move that was suspicious to the Office of the Public Defender.

"You can see in the video yourself that there are multiple officers standing around the vehicle," Assistant Public Defender Deborah Levi said. "Which means multiple officers turned theirs off for an extended period of time, and that just doesn't make sense."

But an attorney for one of the officers says, there is a perfectly good explanation.

"What it looks like and what the truth is are two completely different things," said attorney Jeremy Eldridge.

Eldridge says his client was the covert officer that night, hidden away doing surveillance.

Working undercover, he says he called in the drug buy and monitored the search of the suspect's car from his radio.

It was a search that as the video shows, looked everywhere from under the hood to behind the car's radio.

While scene officers did recover marijuana and 3.5 grams of suspected cocaine, they didn't find the bigger bag until that covert officer joined the search at very end, when the scene officers felt they exhausted the search.

"When he simply looked in the car, he saw it in the steering column and he alerted the other officers, but he immediately remembered that his body camera was not on as he had just come back from a covert location. The other officers then all turn their body cameras on and the point of it obviously was to record the recovery of the drugs," Eldridge said.

It is an explanation backed up by an internal police document obtained by ABC2 News.

In an inter-office correspondence written by that officer and dated a full week before this video became public, the officer explained his covert role in the case and how his other officers failed to find the bag.

"The assisting officers completed their search of the vehicle and turned their body worn cameras off," the officer wrote in the memo addressed to his major.

He then explained how he was picked up from his covert location and taken to the scene where he further explains, "I illuminated the steering wheel/drivers side floor area with my flashlight where I observed a black bag wedged under the steering column. I advised that I observed the bag and a [different officer] activated his body worn camera and retrieved the bag."

The report, known internally as a '95,' goes on to detail how this officer not only spoke to his sergeant about the unique recovery that night but again in April he discussed it with the state's attorney's office.

"I called and spoke to Assistant State's Attorney Whitlock as well and explained the incident. ASA Whitlock advised that after reviewing the footage, he was satisfied."

Lastly, the officer explained his reasoning for writing this memo and sending it through 'official channels.'

After learning this specific case was dropped late last month, he was unsure of the intentions of both the State's Attorney's Office and the Office of the Public Defender and that "I wanted to make my command and the department aware."

He signs the report, "Respectfully," and files it on July 25, 2017.

Then, early the following week, the video was released to the public.

The Baltimore Police Department does verify this document but will not comment on it instead choosing to wait in the outcome of the internal investigation.

ABC2 News also reached out to the State's Attorney's Office and a representative declined to comment on the document as well and is also opting to wait for the outcome of the internal investigation.

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