BALTIMORE — A Baltimore police officer on Friday was found guilty of misconduct and fabricating evidence nearly a year after body-camera video was released showing him putting narcotics in a discarded soup can and then acting like he just stumbled upon the drugs.

Richard Pinheiro Jr. asserted that he’d forgotten to turn his body camera on at first so he decided to re-create his discovery of a baggie of heroin capsules stuffed inside a can in a weed-choked alley.

“I had no intent to deceive anyone. I truly didn’t,” Pinheiro said to Baltimore Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn at the close of his trial.

Saying she did not feel “jail time is appropriate in this case,” Phinn sentenced him to a three-year suspended sentence with two years of supervised probation. He must also perform 300 hours of community service.

The maximum penalty for fabricating evidence, a misdemeanor, is three years in prison.

The police academy’s head of legal instruction, Sgt. Josh Rosenblatt, said Baltimore officers were never instructed to re-create discovering evidence.

In July 2017, the public defender’s office released video from Pinheiro’s own body camera that appeared to show him placing a soup can in a trash-strewn lot, then returning to the scene shortly afterward and acting like he just discovered a baggie of drugs inside the can.

The video has no sound as the officer appeared to put the can in the lot and then return to two colleagues nearby. The audio then begins once the officer’s fingers are seen in the camera lens and he walks down an alley to a sidewalk. “I’m gonna go check here,” Pinheiro tells the other two officers as he returns to the lot, picks through some trash and then appears to discover the soup can, pulling out a baggie with white capsules. “Hold up,” he says.

Baltimore’s body-worn cameras save roughly 30 seconds of preceding video without audio whenever the devices are activated, so there was immediate suspicion that Pinheiro inadvertently recorded more than he intended to.

After the Public Defender’s office released the video, then-Police Commissioner Kevin Davis suspended Pinheiro’s police powers. But he cautioned against a rush to judgment, suggesting that it may have been a re-enactment of a crime scene, even if that was “inconsistent” with proper police work. Later, when drug cases across the city fell apart, he clarified that re-enactments are against policy.

The case led to Baltimore’s force changing policy to mandate that officers keep their cameras on from the beginning of an event until that event is concluded and they have left the scene.

Baltimore is under a federal consent decree to reform its police department after the U.S. Justice Department discovered longstanding patterns of excessive force, unlawful arrests and discriminatory police practices.

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Information from: The Baltimore Sun, http://www.baltimoresun.com

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