BALTIMORE – Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said the city's top prosecutor made a "bad call" when she dropped dozens of cases associated with an officer captured on body camera video appearing to discover evidence, then place it back on the ground before turning on his body camera.
Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby on Monday announced that she was dropping 43 criminal cases that rely on the testimony of the officer or other officers also seen in the video, and characterized their behavior as "questionable."
But on Thursday, Davis defended the officers, whom he said were simply trying to better document the recovery of a bag of drugs from tall grasses after they chased a drug suspect through a clearing. That officer's actions were recorded by another officer's body camera. Davis said several times that the video did not show a re-enactment of any kind.
The video is the third to recently come to light. Two previously released body camera videos appear to show officers planting evidence at crime scenes, and prompted Mosby to drop all criminal cases associated with those officers and review hundreds more.
Davis on Thursday took a hard line against Mosby's decision regarding the latest video.
"Just like any relationship there will be bumps in the road. This is a bump in the road that affects my police officers that I know were acting with good intentions," he said.
The first body camera video in the latest incident shows officers on June 14 chasing a drug suspect through the streets of Baltimore before catching him, and placing him in handcuffs. Shortly after the suspect again runs away toward a patch of tall grass, where the officers catch him again. Police identified the suspect as 22-year-old Tyqwon Jones.
In a jailhouse phone call on June 16, Jones describes to a friend the location of a stash of drugs, hidden inside a cigar package. Jones' friend promised to try and retrieve the drugs the following morning. Davis said the officers listened to the call, and returned to the scene the following day to look for the drugs the suspect had described.
In a second video, dated June 17, officers are seen searching the area where Jones was caught for the second time. One officer is seen locating and picking up a cigar package, looking inside, then placing it down on the ground before turning on his own body camera and doing it again.
Davis said that there was nothing questionable about the officers' actions. "The officers did exactly what I, and the community expects of them: to go out, make legal arrests based on sound probable cause ... A decision to drop all cases and pending cases involving these three police officers simply does not help the crime fight," he said.
But Mosby said Thursday at a news conference that any breach in protocol regarding body camera videos should not be tolerated, particularly in Baltimore, where city officials are working to repair a long fractured trust between the police and the people here.
Mosby also said that none of the officers seen in the videos had turned on their body cameras before discovering the evidence; body cameras retain 30 seconds of footage prior to an officer switching on the device.
"Respecting the integrity of the evidence gathering process is essential to all cases," Mosby said, "therefore the re-enacting of discovery and seizure of evidence cannot be the face of policing in Baltimore city ... it undermines public trust and creates indefensible doubt."
Separately, seven officers earlier this year were federally indicted for fraud after they were recorded on a wiretap working together to rob and illegally detain Baltimore residents, as well as defraud the department for overtime pay.
In January, the city entered into a court-enforceable agreement to reform its police department after the U.S. Justice Department discovered longstanding patterns of excessive force, unlawful arrests and discriminatory police practices.