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Caledonia police chief says officer in viral video did not plant evidence, but shouldn’t have put baggie in pulled-over car


The Caledonia police chief tried to quell speculation that an officer planted evidence after a video went viral showing the officer tossing a plastic bag into the back seat of a pulled-over car.



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Caledonia Police Chief Christopher Botsch wrote in a Facebook post Saturday night that the bag didn’t contain drugs and was taken from a passenger’s pocket after the car was pulled over for going 63 mph in a 45 mph zone on Wednesday. 

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The post included two police body-cam videos and a statement that the officer was “NOT planting evidence or doing anything illegal.”

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No one was arrested, Botsch said, though the driver was issued a speeding citation and a passenger was handcuffed.

In the car were a driver and at least three passengers, according to the statement. The body-cam videos released Saturday show interactions between police and two of the passengers, both Black men.

Botsch said in the statement that “corner tear” bags are commonly used to hold drugs, but that after officers realized that was not the case, they “discarded” the empty bag in the vehicle. Botsch conceded in his post that “we would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s vehicle.”

Neither Botsch’s statement nor the videos explain why the bag was placed in the car despite that being discouraged, nor why a passenger was searched — and later handcuffed — as a result of a speeding traffic stop.

Four officers were present on the scene, and there are more than six hours of body-cam footage to review, Botsch said in his statement, adding that all videos, in their entirety, will be released soon.

Caledonia police have not responded to requests for more information from the Journal Sentinel. Attempts to reach the man who recorded the cellphone video were also unsuccessful.

Here’s what we know so far from the videos and the police chief’s statement.

Police searched passenger after car pulled over for speeding

One body-cam video posted by Caledonia police shows the search of the passenger who originally had the corner-tear plastic bag.

Before the search, as he is asked to put his hands behind his back, the man asks the officer conducting the search, “I’ve got to get put in handcuffs?”

“No, I’m not putting you in handcuffs,” the officer responds.

The man is asked if he minds being searched for weapons. He eventually responds that he’s “good with that.”

The officer pulls out a bag from the man’s pocket and asks, “What was in the bags, man?” He hands what turns out to be an empty bag to another officer, who hands it to the officer who ultimately throws it in the back seat of the vehicle.

Despite not appearing to find anything else of interest on the passenger with the bag, police handcuff him on the side of the road.

What happened immediately before the viral video

When the bag is handed to the officer shown in the viral video, that officer appears to ask, “Corner cut?”

Botsch said in a Facebook post that a “corner cut” or “tear” is the corner of a plastic baggie and “a common method for holding illegal drugs.”

After receiving the baggie, the officer first walks behind the bumper of the pulled-over vehicle, then behind the open rear passenger-side door, where he is recorded by the front-seat passenger.

Viral video shows the baggie toss

The 16-second cellphone video was posted to Facebook around 10 a.m. on Saturday.

It shows the officer using his left hand to toss a rolled-up plastic bag into the back seat.

The man recording says, “Hey bro, what’s that?”

The officer responds, “What’s what?”

The man recording says, “I got you on camera bro,” and the officer responds, “I got you on camera, we’re all good.”

The cellphone camera then shows a plastic baggie in the back seat next to a lighter and the man recording says, “Hey … you just threw that in here.” The video ends.

Officer’s bodycam captured some of viral video scene, then further interaction

In the officer’s bodycam video, he approaches the vehicle and stands back from the open rear passenger-side door. His toss of the baggie is out of view of his body camera.

After the passenger says, “Hey … you just threw that in here,” the officer responds: “Yeah, cause it was in his pocket and I don’t want to hold onto it,” while beginning to put on gloves.

“It’s on their body cam that they just took it off of him, so …” the officer continues.

“You just threw that in here, bro, I got you on camera,” the passenger says.

“I’m telling you where it came from, so …” the officer responds. “It’s an empty baggie at the moment, too.”

It’s unclear what he meant by “at the moment” — Botsch didn’t offer an explanation in his Facebook post.

Caledonia police’s response

After the clip went viral, Botsch first issued a statement Saturday afternoon announcing it would be investigated internally, with the aid of body-cam footage.

Saturday night, the department released the two videos with a further statement from Botsch.

“Since there were NO DRUGS in the corner tear, the officers discarded the empty packaging material in the vehicle. This is what was observed in the video,” Botsch said.

“While we would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s vehicle, the video is clear that the officer is NOT planting evidence or doing anything illegal.  Additionally, the empty corner tear is not itself illegal,” Botsch said in the post.

Contact Drake Bentley at (414) 391-5647 or DBentley1@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DrakeBentleyMJS

Our subscribers make this reporting possible. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Journal Sentinel at jsonline.com/deal.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Caledonia police chief says officer in viral video did not plant evidence, but shouldn’t have put baggie in pulled-over car

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