A new instance of police misconduct has arisen, this time out of Los Angeles. A man suspected of committing a hit-and-run was arrested. During the arrest, police claim that they found drugs in his pocket, but their body cameras show that was not the case.
What Happened During the Arrest, According to Police
According to the police, they responded to a hit-and-run accident and arrested a suspect, Ronald Shields, back in April. In their report, police claim that, while they were searching Shields incident to the arrest, they found a small bag of cocaine in his front left pocket. He was subsequently charged for a felony hit-and-run, drug possession, and a weapons charge.
Police Body Cameras Tell a Different Story
However, the body cameras that the police were wearing tell a different story.
Crucially for this case, in Los Angeles, police body cameras take video constantly, even when they're “off.” When an officer turns their camera on, the camera starts recording audio, as well, but also saves the previous 30 seconds of video, to provide context to the rest of the recording.
When Shields' defense attorney obtained and then presented that footage of the arrest at trial, it showed that police officers didn't find the drugs in Shields' pocket – they found the bag of cocaine on the ground. A police officer then put the drugs in Shields' wallet, which was also on the ground at the beginning of the video. Only after putting the drugs in the suspect's wallet did the officer turn his body camera on. Once the camera was on, the officers made a point of “discovering” it.
Defense Attorney Claims Drugs Were Planted on Defendant
This footage seems pretty damning, and it does prove that the police report's rendition of the arrest was wrong, but it's not quite definitive proof that the drugs were planted on Shields during the arrest. The wallet and the drugs were picked up from the ground very close to each other. Maybe Shields dropped his wallet and the drugs fell out?
Not according to Shields' defense lawyer. Looking closely at the video, he thinks that the drugs first appeared on the scene in the hands of one of the responding officers, who then dropped them near Shields' wallet so another cop could slip the baggie into it. Unfortunately, despite there being a dozen officers on the scene of the arrest, there is little footage to rely on for this theory. However, it's already very clear that the cops lied on their police report.
William T. Bly: Maine's Criminal Defense Attorney
Police body cameras are one of the best ways to hold police accountable – something that's increasingly becoming necessary, as they have proven themselves to be willing to lie in order to make more arrests.
Unfortunately, as we'll show in our next blog post, body cameras have not transformed policing as much as they were supposed to, largely because police departments have prevented them from making the law enforcement process more transparent.
If you've been arrested and charged with a crime, having a solid criminal defense attorney at your side is the best way to avoid a conviction. Contact the law office of William T. Bly online or at (207) 571-8146.