By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The Los Angeles Police Department will investigate allegations of misconduct against at least one officer, the department said on Friday, after an attorney said video captured police putting cocaine in his client’s wallet before arresting him.
The allegations threaten to embarrass the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) at a time when civil rights activists, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, are pressuring it to more routinely release body-camera footage.
“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,” the department said in a statement.
Body-camera footage played in court on Thursday showed police planting drugs on an African-American man when they detained him after a vehicle collision in April, said Steve Levine, the man’s attorney.
The man, Ronald Shields, 52, was arrested and charged with possession of cocaine, illegally having a gun in his car and a hit-and-run vehicle collision, Levine said.
Local television station CBS 2 first reported the attorney’s allegation of drug planting and broadcast the footage.
In body-camera video from one officer, which was shown on CBS 2, the officer appeared to pick up a small bag of white powder from the street and tuck it into the suspect’s wallet.
The same officer could also be seen and heard approaching other officers to tell them cocaine was found in the wallet.
“I still don’t understand why he did it, other than maybe he just wanted to brag about it and move his career along at my client’s expense,” Levine said by phone.
The police report for the arrest said the cocaine was found in the suspect’s front pocket, not the wallet, according to CBS 2, which showed the document.
Levine could not provide the full name of the officer who he said was caught on video putting the bag of white powder in the suspect’s wallet. The attorney added he believes multiple officers were complicit.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, a labor union for officers, disputed Levine’s allegations.
“A criminal defense attorney’s selective use of body worn camera footage does not tell the entire story,” it said. “We believe the truth will be uncovered upon the completion of the internal review and we believe the officers will be vindicated.”
In Baltimore this year, prosecutors re-examined dozens of cases and dismissed some after body-worn camera footage showed police officers apparently staging the discovery of evidence.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Stephen Coates)