LAPD Cop Accused Of Planting Drugs In Male Suspect's Wallet

LAPD Cop Accused Of Planting Drugs In Male Suspect's Wallet

By Paul Fuhr 11/16/17

The alleged drug-planting incident was chronicled by one of the officer's body cameras.

Image: 
Body-cam footage of Officer Samuel Lee arresting Ronald Shields
Body-cam footage of Officer Samuel Lee arresting Ronald Shields Photo via YouTube

Police body-camera footage has triggered a full-scale LAPD investigation into whether an officer planted illegal drugs on a suspect during a routine traffic stop, CBS News reported. The controversy surrounds an April hit-and-run crash, wherein 52-year-old Ronald Shields was arrested for not only causing the incident but for felony cocaine possession.

The body-cam video, however, appears to contradict an officer’s sworn testimony that Shields had a small bag of cocaine in his front left pocket. When CBS Los Angeles released the footage, however, the case didn’t just send shockwaves through the department—it immediately went viral. It’s also no wonder that Samuel Lee, one of the accused LAPD officers in question, was reportedly left “dumbstruck” after seeing the video for himself during a pre-trial hearing. 

According to CBS News, 12 separate videos were obtained by investigative reporter David Goldstein, who feels the different angles further corroborate the case against the LAPD. The videos each show an officer identified as "Gaxiola" allegedly planting the cocaine. 

CBS Los Angeles reports that Lee’s partner Officer Gaxiola can be seen picking up Shields’s wallet from the street and showing it to Lee, “who points to the suspect as if to say it’s his.” Gaxiola is then shown putting the wallet down, stepping to the street and picking up a small bag containing a white powder. Later, Gaxiola returns to the sidewalk, picks up the wallet, and allegedly places the bag of white powder (later confirmed to be cocaine) into the wallet.

Apparently, audio reportedly reveals Gaxiola bragged to fellow officers about the drug bust. “He has a little bag of narco in here,” Gaxiola allegedly repeated three times. And while Lee claims the drugs fell from Shields’s pocket, defense lawyers argue that the video shows otherwise. “There’s a little white square here in his hand,” one attorney observed, “I believe the video shows the drugs were in his right hand and transfers to his left hand.”

The LAPD swiftly issued a statement that stopped short of denouncing the specific situation: “The LAPD takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and, as in all cases, will conduct a thorough investigation.” Similarly, Mayor Eric Garcetti released his own statement, maintaining that he “expects the highest integrity from everyone who wears the badge.”

Intriguingly, the video suggests that the officers themselves didn’t quite understand how their own body cameras worked. CBS News speculates that the officers may not have been aware that the body cams save the first 30 seconds of recording without audio.

A trio of Baltimore police officers made the same mistake, the Baltimore Sun reported in August. After body camera footage surfaced showing a police officer planting a baggie of pills in a lot, while two others looked on, dozens of cases have been dismissed given that the officers' credibility had been "called into question."

Body-worn cameras are relatively new to American police forces and have been quickly adopted in the last few years. Despite their high initial costs, many experts believe the body-worn cameras would pay for themselves by offsetting the costs of potential lawsuits and providing clear, irrefutable evidence in courtrooms.

The hearing is set to continue in December.

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Paul Fuhr lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and two cats, Vesper and Dr. No. He's written for AfterParty MagazineThe Literary Review and The Live Oak Review, among others. He's also the host of "Drop the Needle," a podcast about music and addiction recovery. More at paulfuhr.com. You can also find Paul on Linkedin and Twitter.

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