Would you ever believe that a police officer would plant evidence that would wrongfully incriminate someone?
That seems to have been the case when many viewed a one-minute and 40-second viral police dashcam video released back in December by the Utica Phoenix, a weekly local newspaper in Utica, N.Y. The paper covered a story about Utica Police Department officers pulling over a vehicle for allegedly running a stop sign and potentially planting drugs inside of it.
The video shows a man being pulled over by two officers at a traffic stop that, according to the Phoenix, took place on Feb. 11 of last year. One minute into the video, officer Paul Paladino appears to take a plastic bag filled with supposed drugs out of his back pocket, drops it on the floor and places it inside the man's car. Seconds later, he comes out of the car's interior with the same bag and another bigger filled bag.
The Phoenix reports that the video has been widely distributed through the African-American community, being shown in barbershops and other public places, which has fueled more complaints against the Utica Police Department of planting evidence, tampering and corruption.
However, in response to the uproar, Utica police chief Mark Williams released the full 30-minute dashcam video of the incident in order to explain the officer's ambiguous actions, saying that the shorter video that was first posted Monday on YouTube didn't show everything that happened at the stop.
Williams said to the Utica Observer-Dispatch that the police department's Office of Professional Standards has nearly completed its own internal investigation of what appeared to take place and has found that Paladino did not plant evidence of drugs. Nevertheless, the NAACP and the FBI continue to investigate reports Yahoo News.
In the 30-minute video, minutes before Paladino enters the rear passenger side of the vehicle, the video shows him removing similar looking plastic bags from the pockets of handcuffed suspect Grady Jones, 51.
The search of Jones' passenger and potential girlfriend, Ameya Hunt, 38, was not recorded, according to the Observer-Dispatch, but Williams told the paper that seven baggies of marijuana were recovered from her purse and an additional 10 baggies of marijuana from Jones. The vehicle also gave off the scent off marijuana.
Williams said further that the shorter, controversial segment of the video actually shows Paladino later removing one the same baggies of marijuana from his pocket so that he could separate them in the backseat of Jones' vehicle and keep his hands free in case he needed to defend himself.
Sgt. Steve Hauck further stated to Yahoo News that the officers didn't violate protocol by storing evidence in their pockets during an outdoor traffic stop in freezing cold weather.
According to Williams, Paladino also recovered other baggies under the driver and passenger seats that contained a small residue of cocaine, resulting in misdemeanor charges against Jones and Hunt. However, Death and Taxes Magazine reports that both Jones and Hunt admitted in court to possessing marijuana, but insisted that any cocaine found came from elsewhere, perhaps even from Paladino himself.
The Observer-Dispatch reports that Williams said the cocaine allegations prompted Jones and Hunt to question whether evidence had been planted.The cocaine misdemeanor charges were dropped in Utica City Court when Jones pleaded guilty in June to misdemeanor marijuana possession and Hunt pleaded to a marijuana violation. However, either Jones or Hunt forwarded a recording of the traffic stop to the NAACP and the FBI, which prompted Utica police to conduct an internal investigation in October.
I'm pretty sure it's part of their training not to do the things they did in the video, said Venice Ervin, chairman of the Legal Redress Committee of the NAACP in Utica and Oneida County, of the police. That makes it very suspect when you see something like that.
Williams and Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara disagreed Tuesday, believing Paladino did nothing wrong.
The way I look at this is: It's easy to second guess, and it's even easier to say 'woulda, shoulda, coulda,' McNamara said. However, in our community that has lost three police officers to gunshot wounds, I'm never going to second guess a police officer who feels the safest, most appropriate thing to do is to secure the evidence on his person, where he knows where it is.
Watch the viral snippet below: