LOS ANGELES — Body camera video that has prompted accusations that a Los Angeles police officer planted drugs on a suspect is by itself inconclusive about whether the officer did anything wrong, Police Chief Charlie Beck said Nov. 14.
The Los Angeles Police Department is investigating the allegation and the video, which was first aired by CBS2 Nov. 10. The video, recorded in April, appears to show Officer Samuel Lee picking up a small bag that later tested positive for cocaine and placing it in the wallet of the suspect, Ronald Shields.
“The video in and of itself is not dispositive one way or the other, I think that’s important to recognize,” Beck told the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners.
Commissioner Cynthia McClain-Hill asked Beck to comment on the investigation, and she said she agreed with the chief that the video was not “dispositive.”
Shields was being arrested for his alleged involvement in a hit-and-run crash, and it is not clear from the footage where the arrest occurred. A second officer is shown picking up Shields’ wallet and showing it to Lee as he contemplates what to do with the packet.
During a court hearing for Shields, the officers testified the cocaine was found in Shields’ left front pocket, according to CBS2. The body camera footage was used to refute that claim. Shields is facing charges of hit-and-run and cocaine possession, the station reported.
Partly in response to the case, the LAPD is changing its policy on how much video footage is captured by a body camera before an officer turns it on, Beck said. Under the previous guidelines, when officers turned on a camera, the device automatically captured the previous 30 seconds of video footage. Beck said the department was extending the “pre-event” buffer, but he did not say how much longer it had been extended.
The video recorded at Shields’ arrest appears to show that Lee turned his camera on after placing the drugs inside the wallet.
“I would remind folks that the criminal charges levied against the individual involved here were pretty serious, and they were not restricted to the possession of narcotics and include an ex-felon with a gun and felony hit-and-run,” Beck said.
Beck said Lee has been taken off field duty while the investigation continues.
After the video aired Nov. 10, the LAPD issued a statement reaffirming the department’s commitment to treating all suspects fairly.
“The LAPD takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and, as in all cases, will conduct a thorough investigation,” the statement said.
Mayor Eric Garcetti also weighed in, saying he “expects the highest integrity from everyone who wears the badge.”
Civil rights activists reacted Nov. 13 by issuing a statement calling for the mandatory release of LAPD body cam videos.
“The public release of body cam videotape which allegedly shows the planting of cocaine on a suspect again confirms the need to have immediate and full disclosure by the LAPD of body cam footage,” Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable and Najee Ali, president of Project Islamic Hope, said in the statement.
“Full public disclosure strikes to the heart of the issue of fulfilling the public’s right to know as well as transparency in potentially controversial arrest and abuse cases. Mandating public disclosure of all tapes in is crucial to bolster public confidence in the LAPD.”
Hutchinson and Ali also challenged the L.A. Police Commission to fast track a policy change mandating immediate release of body cam footage.