4th Circuit reinstates $2.3M award to man falsely held as ‘Charles Village rapist’

Steve Lash//August 7, 2017

4th Circuit reinstates $2.3M award to man falsely held as ‘Charles Village rapist’

By Steve Lash

//August 7, 2017

A federal appeals court Monday reinstated a $2.3 million jury award to a Baltimore man who was falsely held in jail for 15 months as the “Charles Village rapist,” saying city police officers lacked probable cause to make an arrest.

In its published 3-0 decision, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr. erroneously overturned the jury’s verdict for Marlow Humbert.

Quarles wrongfully concluded, contrary to the jury’s finding, that the officers lawfully stopped Humbert because the victim wrote “that’s him” on the back of his photograph of Humbert and because of his resemblance to the composite sketch based on that photo, the 4th Circuit panel said.

In fact, the officers zealously urged the victim to identify Humbert’s photo and then did not mention her concerns with the identification when they successfully sought the arrest warrant, the 4th Circuit added.

“Despite finding that the victim had a strong emotional reaction when she viewed Humbert’s photo, said and wrote ‘that’s him,’ and signed her name on his photo, the jury unequivocally found that the victim informed the officers that she could not positively identify Humbert as her attacker,” Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory wrote for the court. “Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Humbert, we therefore conclude that the statement that the victim positively identified Humbert as her attacker was false and the officers had an obvious reason to doubt its accuracy before including it in the warrant application. As such, the inclusion of this false statement amounts to at least recklessness.”

The Baltimore Police Department and the officers are evaluating their options, including a potential appeal to the full 4th Circuit or to the U.S. Supreme Court, said their attorney, Suzanne Sangree of the Baltimore City Law Department.

Humbert’s attorney hailed the 4th Circuit’s decision.

“The tides are turning in the direction they should have turned all along,” said Charles H. Edwards IV, of the Law Office of Barry Glazer LLP in Baltimore. “They’re turning toward providing justice for people who for a long time have been unable to appropriately access the courts. I am talking about people who get railroaded and have had no recourse.”

Humbert was arrested in May 2008 and charged with first-degree rape and armed robbery for an assault two weeks earlier in the 2200 block of St. Paul Street, according to the lawsuit. The attack was one of several robberies and sexual assaults in the neighborhood that spring, leading police to search for the “Charles Village rapist,” stated the lawsuit, filed in February 2011.

Humbert’s federal civil-rights claim against three officers alleged police evidence did not corroborate the victim’s story but he was hastily arrested amid intense media coverage and concern in the community of more attacks. Humbert was held in jail for 15 months before the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office dropped the charges against him after discovering the victim had not positively identified Humbert and that DNA evidence excluded him as a suspect.

After a five day trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, the jury ruled for Humbert in April 2015 and awarded him $1.5 million in punitive and $800,000 in compensatory damages. Quarles overturned the award after concluding the officers had qualified immunity from the suit because they had probable cause to arrest Humbert.

The 4th Circuit disagreed, citing the flawed arrest warrant the officers’ sought based on the victim’s flimsy identification that they improperly encouraged and then wrongly accepted.

“The officers’ irrational reliance (on the identification) is further underscored by the victim’s subsequent statement that she could not positively identify Humbert,” Gregory wrote in the opinion joined by Judges Stephanie D. Thacker and Pamela A. Harris. “Under these circumstances, the officers could not have reasonably believed that probable cause existed to seek a warrant for Humbert’s arrest.”

The 4th Circuit issued its decision in Marlow Humbert v. Baltimore Police Department et al., No. 15-1768.


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