The use of body-cameras on American officers has been on the rise in 2012. A gesture that aspired to make policing more transparent, parallel to a rise in high profile police misconduct cases throughout the country. The cameras, ideally, would either clear up details in SIU investigations or act as a tiny Sword of Damocles. Their use hasn’t made an impact on police brutality. The silver lining is that on occasion these devices intended to prove a police officer’s innocence will backfire spectacularly when an officer is, in fact, a total asshole.
Roland Shields, a 52-year-old black man in Los Angeles, was arrested last April for a keeping a firearm in his trunk, a hit-and-run and possession of cocaine. The last charge is now under scrutiny after collected footage from multiple body cameras suggest that one LAPD officer, identified as ‘Gaxiola’, planted evidence on Shields. It contradicts the police account. CBS managed to collect body camera 12 videos of the arrest. When CBS confronted the officer who participated in the arrest he offered no comment.
The police report said that the cocaine was found on Shields, it was in his pocket. Instead, in the video, Gaxiola raises a wallet from the ground to show to the other officers. Gaxiola then appears to drop the wallet back on the ground, bends over and this time picks up a small bag of cocaine, gesturing to officers behind Shields’ back as he places the bag into the wallet.
After planting the drugs, Gaxiola appears to turn on his body camera, unaware that the device is designed to save the previous 30 seconds of footage before activation. It’s unclear how coordinated this was. After turning on the camera Gaxiola rather brazenly boasts to three other officers that there was ‘a bag of narco’ discovered.
“It seems improbable that someone would tape themselves planting drugs,” said attorney Steve Levine. “It seems more reasonable that, when he turned on his cam, he felt he was recording at that point.”
Levine also believes that earlier in one recording, you can see the square-shaped baggie in Gaxiola’s hand before picking up the wallet. In a statement, the LAPD said they take “all allegations of misconduct seriously and, as in all cases, will conduct a thorough investigation.” LAPD body camera footage isn’t actually available to the public, after a 2015 change in policy, that critics have said make the entire program moot. An identical happened earlier this year in Baltimore. Twice. In one month.