By Jonathan Allen
(Reuters) - The Baltimore Police Department suspended seven officers after body camera video emerged that the city's public defender said appeared to show them planting drugs in a car during a traffic stop, the second such episode in the city in two weeks.
Some of the videos published this week showed officers searching around the driver's seat of a car for several minutes but finding nothing during the stop on Nov. 29 last year. Other videos recorded about 30 minutes later show one officer crouching near the seat as others look on.
When he steps back, colleagues can be seen switching on their cameras, at which point audio can be heard. The cameras are designed to store silent video footage of the 30 seconds preceding the camera's activation.
"Now?" someone can be heard saying. Then a different officer steps toward the seat and quickly makes a discovery.
"Oh here you go," he says, holding up a black bag that police say contained illegal drugs. "That's the weed smell right there."
The videos were released by the lawyer of one of two people in the car who were arrested on drugs charges. The charges were dropped on Monday, the Baltimore Sun said.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis defended his officers on Wednesday, telling a news conference his department was facing "growing pains" with the technology they started using 14 months ago.
"I do know it's not healthy to jump to a conclusion that officers did something criminal just because their camera was off," Davis said, adding that he would wait until an internal investigation was complete before making a judgment.
Last month the city's public defender released video of another incident involving different officers, which appeared to show one of them planting a small bag of capsules in a trash-strewn yard.
Charges against the man arrested in that case also were dropped and state prosecutors began examining about 123 other cases involving that officer and two colleagues.
Forty-one of those cases have been thrown out so far because they relied on the officers' credibility, state prosecutors said.
Davis also released other videos that he said raised the possibility the officers in the earlier incident were not planting drugs but instead wrongly staged cleaner reshoots of an earlier narcotics discovery.
After the new videos emerged, Davis wrote to officers reminding them of the rules for using the cameras, noting it was forbidden to "recreate" discovering evidence.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Additional reporting by Zachary Goelman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Phil Berlowitz)