A grand jury has indicted a Baltimore Police officer on charges of misconduct and fabricating evidence in connection with a body camera video that surfaced last year that the public defender's office said showed him planting drugs.

Officer Richard A. Pinheiro Jr., 29, was charged Tuesday, with prosecutors saying there were "alleged questionable evidence gathering acts captured on body worn camera footage." Prosecutors declined to discuss the case further.

"As State's Attorney, I've made a pledge to apply one standard of justice for all. It's critical we remain transparent throughout the process to the extent the law allows as we continue to rebuild community trust," State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby said in a statement. "Yesterday's indictment is another example of our office applying justice fairly and equally."

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Pinheiro's attorney, Michael Davey, said the officer did not break the law.

"Officer Pinheiro simply tried to document the recovery of evidence with his body worn camera that he had previously recovered," Davey said. "This is just another overreach by the Baltimore State's Attorney's Office, and an attempt to prosecute a police officer when there's no evidence to do so."

The fabricating evidence charge is a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment and/or a $5,000 fine. Misconduct in office is a common law offense, which means the court is free to impose any penalty that does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

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The video was one of three that surfaced in the summer of 2017 that defense attorneys said depicted questionable activity. In announcing Pinheiro's indictment, prosecutors also said they had cleared three officers involved in another video. Former police commissioner Kevin Davis had forcefully defended those officers at the time, publicly clashing with Mosby. Prosecutors said as of early December, they had dropped 56 cases involving the officers in that video.

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In a report released Wednesday regarding that second video, prosecutors said they determined "the overwhelming weight of the evidence is more consistent with an error of judgment by the involved officers."

"The acts on the video were just the recovery of drugs and there is nothing false or fraudulent in the [body camera] videos that would deceive or mislead a reasonable person," prosecutors said.

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Pinheiro's video, which garnered national attention after it was released by the public defender's office in July, shows the officer placing a soup can into a trash-strewn lot.

That portion of the footage was recorded automatically, before the officer activated the camera. Police body cameras have a feature that saves the 30 seconds of video before activation, but without audio.

After placing the can down, the officer walks to the street, and flips his camera on.

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"I'm going to go check here," the officer says. He returns to the lot and picks up the soup can, removing a plastic bag filled with white capsules.

Police said Wednesday that Pinheiro has been suspended since the incident, and noted police made changes to their body camera policy requiring officers to "keep their cameras on from the beginning of an event until that event is over and they have left the scene, to ensure that if any additional police actions take place, they are captured on the cameras," police spokesman T.J. Smith said in a statement.

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The public defender's office flagged the video for prosecutors, prompting them to drop the heroin possession charge against the man arrested. He had been held for more than six months, unable to post $50,000 bail.

Prosecutors said the video prompted them to drop more than 110 cases involving the three officers depicted in the video from Pinheiro's camera.

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Pinheiro is the second officer to be indicted on criminal charges as a result of actions depicted on body camera.

Public defender Deborah Katz Levi said her office believes the state's attorney's office continues to show a "frightening lack of transparency" surrounding officers under investigation. Another 27 cases were deemed by prosecutors to be viable and were moving forward, the state's attorney's office said in early December.

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"There are people facing incarceration in which these officers played a part, and still no disclosures as to the status of the other officers," Levi said. "The State's Attorney's Office does not get to hold onto this information while people's liberty is at stake."

Officers are supposed to start recording "at the initiation of a call for service or other activity or encounter that is investigative or enforcement-related in nature," and during any other confrontational encounters, according to the police department's body camera policy. They can also stop recording under certain circumstances, such as when civilians request to not be recorded in encounters with officers and during exchanges with confidential informants.

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Davis said last year that officers had been "reluctant" to properly use cameras, a program the city invested millions of dollars in to foster accountability, but he said improvements were being made.

Baltimore Sun

Baltimore Sun reporter Tim Prudente contributed to this report.

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