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Baltimore dealing with multiple body cam 're-enactments'

Body cameras worn by police officers can help ensure that people accused of a crime aren't treated inappropriately by officers. They can also provide exculpatory evidence or at least call into question the evidence that is being used against a defendant.

The Baltimore Police Department has reported that body cam video showing an officer "discovering" drugs was staged. The department has called it a "re-enactment of the seizure of evidence."

It's at least the third such staged video taken by officers in the department in about a month. The other two also involved either recreating drug crime scenes or planting drugs. While the BPD self-reported this last case, the first one, which showed an officer planting evidence, was reported by the Maryland public defender's office. Apparently the officer was unaware that the cameras capture images from 30 seconds before the camera is turned on.

Because of the video, Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby has decided not to prosecute or to drop 43 cases involving the officers behind the most recent video. That brings to over 100 the number of cases being dropped because of staged body cam videos.

The commissioner of the BPD has ordered officers not to stage footage to recreate activities that weren't captured because their cameras weren't turned on. Mosby, meanwhile, has said, "The body-worn camera program was established to fight crime, better protect officers, and foster public trust. 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."

The latest video, according to the officer who turned it over, "was self-reported as a re-enactment of the seizure of evidence," Mosby's office said. The first two videos involved either the planting of drugs or the recreation of a drug crime scene. Those videos prompted Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Kevin Davis to order officers not to stage body cam footage.

A BPD spokesman says that he expects more tapes of staged scenes to be made public because, "I think, out of an abundance of caution, officers are going to come forward."

While planting evidence is a more serious offense than recreating the discovery of evidence, any video that intentionally misrepresents evidence or officers' actions calls into question the legitimacy of the state's case and can result in charges against a defendant being dropped. Experienced Maryland criminal defense attorneys can work to ensure that people are not prosecuted using falsified evidence.

Source: Ars Technica, "Another staged body cam leads to 43 more dropped Baltimore prosecutions," David Kravets, Aug. 22, 2017

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