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Body camera video exposes Burlington cop's alleged lie - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Body camera video exposes Burlington cop's alleged lie

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

A Burlington police officer's alleged lie is now putting dozens of drug cases in jeopardy. The state's attorney says because of this, guilty people will go free. Thursday, her office was forced to dismiss 14 pending drug cases Ofc. Christopher Lopez investigated and 32 of his closed cases are also under review, all because of what was captured on body camera video.

That video shows Lopez stopping a car for a busted taillight. The driver has a smashed window, an expired license and no inspection. Lopez tells backup he's got a bad feeling about the two tattooed men inside.

"I'm just trying to get creative about how I'm going to get in this car," Lopez can be heard saying in the recording.

The other officer asks if Lopez smells marijuana coming from the car. Lopez thinks his body camera is off when he responds: "No. I mean I can if I need to, but I don't like going that way if I can't back it up."

"He may have gotten creative in troubling and unlawful ways, that's the suspicion," Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo said.

Del Pozo says there are multiple ways to interpret the conversation heard in the recording. He wouldn't speculate on what Lopez was thinking but offered this: "He could say, 'Let's go tell this motorist that we smell weed in his car even though we don't and see how he reacts to that assertion.' Police officers can be deceptive in their line of questioning."

But they cannot lie in a police affidavit. And that's where the chief says his officer crossed the line. When he arrested that driver, Michael Mullen, Ofc. Lopez swore he smelled pot and used it as a justification to keeping questioning the suspect about drugs during that traffic stop.

"It does call into question the integrity of the Burlington Police. It does give license to our critics and skeptics, and we won't tolerate that," del Pozo said.

Lopez is far from a rookie, with 75 drug arrests in Burlington and 100 more in Baltimore. Del Pozo denies there are pressures on his cops to make these drug arrests.

"We don't have anything at all resembling a quota and we have an officer who was out there doing what he believed was proactive police work and we have concerns about the integrity of the police work," the chief said.

Mullen eventually consented to a search. Lopez found cocaine, pills and pot on him. The police officer's gut was right but the chief and the state's attorney say his tactics were flawed.

"We could not put him back on the stand as a credible witness without this coming into play every single time," Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George said. "And us not knowing whether what he's telling us at that time or telling a jury or swearing to in an affidavit is true."

We checked Mullen's record and found he has four felony and nine misdemeanor convictions. But this case was dismissed after the body cam surfaced during a court hearing.

Mullen's lawyer, Leroy Yoder, says the state's attorney did the right thing.

"It's disappointing. Nobody likes to think that this stuff happens in Vermont but, obviously, it does," Yoder said.

We checked with the Baltimore City Police Department. Lopez left there in good standing.

The chief here in Burlington says a review of Lopez's personnel file does not show any disciplinary matters.

Vermont State Police and the attorney general are now investigating Lopez's alleged actions for possible criminal charges.

Related Story:

Burlington police chief: Officer resigns before perjury hearing

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