“It is incumbent upon us as prosecutors to be the ministers of justice.”
Maryland prosecutors have tossed 34 criminal cases and are re-examining dozens more in the aftermath of recent revelations that a Baltimore police officer accidentally recorded himself planting drugs in a trash-strewn alley.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said that, in all, 123 cases are under review in the wake of a scandal in which one officer has been suspended and two others put on administrative duty. Body cam footage revealed nearly two weeks ago showed one of the officers planting drugs when he didn’t realize his body cam was recording. The Baltimore Police Department’s body cams, like many across the nation, capture footage 30 seconds before an officer presses the record button. The footage was turned over to defense attorneys as part of a drug prosecution—and that’s when the misdeed was uncovered.
“We are dismissing those cases which relied exclusively on the credibility of these officers,” Mosby told a news conference Friday. She said the dismissed cases, some of which have already been prosecuted, involved weapons and drugs. Another dozen cases will stand because of “independent corroborative evidence,” she said.
As I have stated before, it is incumbent upon us as prosecutors to be the ministers of justice and to do what’s right in the pursuit of justice, over convictions, while simultaneously prioritizing public safety.
Mosby added that the authorities are likely to dismiss many more cases, and they have reviewed hundreds of body cam videos. At least one other is suspicious, she said.
Police departments across the nation are now embracing body cams in the aftermath of high-profile shootings. Their stated goal is to provide for better public accountability and to protect officers from being falsely accused. But with any type of technology, body and dash cams are no panacea. In May, for example, drug charges were dropped against a Colorado man after it was disclosed that an officer staged the discovery of drugs for his body cam.
Last week, moreover, body cam footage prompted Colorado authorities in a different case to pay a man $110,000 for being tased in the back. The American Civil Liberties Union said the video was paramount to winning the out-of-court settlement. But Aurora, Colorado officials said the video showed that the officer did nothing wrong. The authorities said they settled “to avoid the cost of prolonged litigation.”
Meanwhile, one of the recently dismissed Baltimore cases included the drug suspect who was the target of the plant in the body cam video. He had been jailed since January on a $50,000 bail he could not post.