The press release from the Public Defender’s office was terse if not familiar. Another drug case dropped due to allegations that a body camera captured Baltimore City officers planting evidence on a suspect.
A lawyer for the alleged victim eventually released a video that revealed officers searching the car twice, only finding drugs during the second search after the officers turned their body cameras off in between.
It was another in a long string of scandals that has hit the Baltimore Police Department with clockwork-like precision since the death of Freddie Gray in police custody in 2015.
But like incidents that preceded it, the revelation was accompanied by something that has become as commonplace in Baltimore as the antics of city cops making national news: a lack of forceful response from City Hall,
Since a different video surfaced two weeks ago showing an officer allegedly placing drugs in a tin can in a garbage strewn Southeast Baltimore alley, only to return 30 seconds later to retrieve the planted drugs unaware the camera was running the whole time, Mayor Catherine Pugh and other city leaders have said little about either incident.
Pugh’s spokesman, Anthony McCarthy, said the mayor did comment during her weekly press briefing when the allegations surfaced, however he did not provide the text of those comments to The AFRO and did not respond to a follow-up question.
But veterans of City Hall say taciturn politicians can be as troublesome as the stories of police misconduct that continue to make headlines.
“I think you have to speak out,” said former Baltimore Councilman Carl Stokes. “The commissioner says we are rooting this out, but it doesn’t seem, they are doing to good job, so it’s incumbent upon elected officials to say something.”
An often outspoken presence at City Hall, Stokes admits critiquing the department can be perilous. Among the concerns, he says, is the critical role the department plays in the eyes of constituents in combating crime.
“The police by an large admit they’ve taken a knee for two years, I think in some ways they are making a point, if you don’t take the handcuffs off, we can’t do our job.”
But he says, failing to voice concerns can have consequences too. Particularly when examples of police misconduct indicate deeper problems brewing inside the department.
Indeed, it was the summer of 2014 just a year before Gray’s death that a video emerged of officer Vincent E. Cosom repeatedly punching Kollin Truss at a bus stop on the corner of North Avenue and Greenmont. The footage revealed Cosom had lied on a statement of charges that the victim had hit him first. It also failed to mention that a colleague of Cosom’s had pinned Truss against the bus stop as Cosom repeatedly struck him in the head.
Deposit the national attention the video received, then mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake declined to call for officer Cosom to be fired, instead telling the press that police work was tough, and that not all suspects cooperated.
Cosom was convicted of assault and sentenced to six months in jail.
Only one mayor recently went out of her way to aim pointed criticism at police misconduct, Sheila Dixon. Her dust up with the city’s largest agency occurred during the lingering vestiges of zero tolerance policing when cops plucked then 7-year old Gerard Mungo off a dirt bike in East Baltimore and jailed him In 2007. Shortly after the arrest, she called a press conference to criticize the move.
“There have be to good checks and balance,” Dixon told the AFRO. “I wanted the department to know we had to do better and that we have certain standards.”
It was a move she says that was necessary to keep police in check that applies to the present. Particularly when recent cases like the racketeering and theft charges against seven members of the Gun Trace Task force sow distrust in the community.
“I think that’s an accountability and supervision issue that has to be addressed in a public way that shows someone is watching,” Dixon said.
“I get stopped every day and people ask me, `what the hell is going on in this city?’ And I say, that’s a good a question.”