Footage from a Los Angeles Police Department officer’s body camera appears to show the cop planting cocaine on a black suspect during an arrest.
The video was taken during an arrest in April when officers stopped 52-year-old Ronald Shields, who they suspected had been involved in a hit-and-run crash.
It was first obtained and posted online by CBS-LA, prompting the LAPD to announce they had launched an internal investigation into the officer on Friday.
This is the first time LAPD bodycam video has ever been made public.
In the police report the officers claimed they found the drugs in the front left pocket of Shields’ shirt, but the video doesn’t confirm that story.
The footage appears to show a cop only identified as Officer Gaxiola standing beside Shields, who had been put in handcuffs, as another officer, Samuel Lee, bends down and picks up a small baggie filled with white powder from the ground.
The powder later tested positive for cocaine.
Officer Gaxiola then motions to Officer Lee and points to Shield’s wallet in his hand and appears to place the baggie in the wallet.
Only then did Gaxiola turn on his body camera, but the devices are designed to record the 30 seconds prior to being switched on.
“The drugs were certainly planted,” Shields’ attorney, Steve Levine, told a court on Thursday.
He said he doesn’t think that anyone would tape themselves planting the drugs on purpose, and claims he turned on the camera when Gaxiola felt like it was safe to start recording.
Officer Gaxiola allegedly bragged to fellow cops about the bust and told them he found the drugs in Shields’ wallet. But then when the report was filed, it read that the cocaine was found in his pocket.
Officer Lee also testified in court and said that they found the drugs in Shields’ pocket.
But Levine described Officer Lee’s expression as dumbstruck, when the body camera video was played after his testimony.
“He really had no answer,” Levine said on Thursday.
The lawyer says that the footage shows the exact moment when the drugs were planted, and allegedly pointed at a white square in Officer Gaxiola’s hand.
“If not for the body cam video, my client would be convicted of a crime he didn’t commit,” Levine told the court.
LAPD said it opened the investigation when CBS aired the footage on Thursday.
“The LAPD takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and, as in all cases, will conduct a thorough investigation to determine whether the alleged actions are supported by reliable evidence,” police said in a statement.
Levine is asking a judge to suppress the evidence.
The judge in the case said on Thursday he didn’t see the video in the same way, but Levine has said he is going to continue to challenge the evidence in the case.
LAPD and the black community have a notoriously volatile relationship. Countless men and women have come forward in the past to allege police brutality and discrimination.