Two cops in Upstate New York are under investigation for allegedly planting narcotics in the car of a couple pulled over in the city of Utica.
The incident, which occurred on February 11, 2011, is being reexamined nearly a year later after the cops involved in the caper have been caught on tape creating “evidence” and placing narcotics in the suspects’ automobile.
The recording of the incident, unbeknownst to the officers, was being made by the camera in their own squad car.
The Utica Phoenix newspaper has come in possession of the recording and has since uploaded an excerpt of the footage to the Web. In the clip, a Utica Police Department officer is seen ushering a suspect in handcuffs away from his vehicle, then approaching the driver-side door, reaching into his back pocket and pulling out a small baggie. The officer then crawls into the car, appears to drop the item in question and shortly thereafter exits the vehicle with the drugs that were allegedly confiscated from the car.
According to the Venice Ervin of a local NAACP chapter, the clip clearly shows Officer Paul Paladino, a white officer, planting evidence in the car of two black suspects.
The video has gone viral since first posted this week, garnering enough hits to temporarily cause the Utica Phoenix’s website to go down. The local Police Department has fired back at the allegations, however, and insists that Officer Paladino came in contact with the evidence earlier in the search and had placed it in his pocket for safekeeping.
“You can put the evidence on your person to maintain custody of it until you have a chance to store it,” Williams and Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara explains. “Where else are you going to put it, on the ground? In the course of searching someone, sometimes the only thing you’ve got is your pockets until a short time later you can put it all together.”
To others, that seems too far-fetched to be the truth.
“We do feel there is concern that some wrongdoing has been done because police officers don’t place evidence in their back pocket and then take it out and climb into a suspect’s car, and then exit with the drugs unrolled,” adds the NAACP’s Ervin to Utica’s Observer-Dispatch.“I’m pretty sure it’s part of their training not to do the things they did in the video. That makes it very suspect when you see something like that.”
Others also remain skeptical. “If you take something from a suspect, do you put in back in your own pocket?” asks the Utica Phoenix’s Cassandra Harris-Lockwood. “You’ve got a crime scene, don’t you protect your crime scene? What do you mean, you stick it in your pocket? That doesn’t sound like proper police procedure to me. Stick it in your pocket? I don’t think so.”
The Utica Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards has begun their own investigation in the manner, which will be followed up by a probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. One of the suspects obtained the tape and forwarded it to the NAACP and FBI, prompting the recent reinvestigation nearly a year after the initial incident.
Pending the results of the investigation, Utica police Chief Mark Williams says he will handle it in a proper manner.
“I just hope people are open-minded and realize that it’s in my best interest, if I have a dirty road cop, to get rid of him, not defend him,” Williams says.