A man wrongfully jailed for 15 months as the “Charles Village rapist” is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to let stand a $2.3 million award he received from a jury that concluded Baltimore police lacked probable cause to arrest him.
In papers filed with the high court Tuesday, Marlow Humbert’s attorneys said the justices should decline the city’s request to review and overturn the award, which the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated last year after the trial judge had thrown it out.
The 4th Circuit correctly applied the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable seizures to the facts of Humbert’s arrest in finding a lack of probable cause, his lawyers stated, adding the Supreme Court decides issues of law and does not review “fact disputes” resolved at trial.
“(T)his case – in which the sole witness testified she was shown a photo resembling Mr. Humbert in advance of the photo array and told it was a photo of her attacker, the arrest was based on a subsequent photo identification that the witness immediately stated she was not sure about, the witness reiterated that she could not positively identify him after his arrest, and exculpatory DNA analysis was withheld from prosecutors for a year – is a poor candidate for deviation from the (Supreme) Court’s usual practice,” wrote lead attorney Charles H. Edwards IV, of The Law Office of Barry Glazer LLP in Baltimore.
City lawyers, in their written request for high court review, stated the 4th Circuit focused myopically on discrete actions of investigating officers rather than on what the victim was telling them about her attacker in words and actions sufficient to give police probable cause to arrest Humbert. The 4th Circuit’s “piecemeal” examination of police conduct runs counter to high court precedent, which allows for probable cause findings based on the “totality of the circumstances,” added the lawyers, led by Suzanne Sangree, senior public safety counsel for the Baltimore City Law Department.
The justices have not set a date for their consideration of Baltimore’s request for high-court review. The case is docketed at the Supreme Court as Mayor and City Council of the City of Baltimore et al. v. Marlow Humbert, No. 17-1185.
A U.S. District Court jury in April 2015 found Humbert’s civil rights were violated when police essentially coached if not outright prodded a rape victim into identifying him as her attacker as she reviewed photographs. But U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr. overturned the verdict two months later, saying the officers lawfully stopped Humbert, noting the victim wrote “that’s him” on the back of his photograph and because of his resemblance to the composite sketch based on that photo.
But the 4th Circuit reinstated the verdict last August, saying 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.
Appealing that decision to the justices in February, the city’s lawyers said the officers had ample information pointing to probable cause, including the victim’s physical description of her attacker, her revulsion upon seeing Humbert’s photo and her assisting the police in drawing a composite sketch.
“Most important, probable cause depends on the totality of the circumstances,” Sangree wrote. “Accordingly, in our case … the (4th Circuit) should have asked whether a reasonable officer could conclude – considering all of the surrounding circumstances – that there existed a substantial chance that respondent raped the victim in this case, and not whether certain isolated facts considered alone cut against a finding of probable cause.”
Humbert’s attorneys countered that the 4th Circuit’s decision was correct and does not warrant Supreme Court review.
“Probable cause requires more than ‘bare suspicion,’” Edwards wrote, quoting from the justices’ 1949 decision in Brinegar v. United States. “Here, the jury found that a reasonable officer would not have believed that Mr. Humbert was responsible for the rape at the time the officers applied for the arrest warrant.”
The 4th Circuit issued its decision in Marlow Humbert v. Baltimore Police Department et al., No. 15-1768.
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 his 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.
Edwards was joined in the Supreme Court filing by attorneys Adam R. Pulver and Edward Tahir Duckett of Public Citizen Litigation Group in Washington.
Sangree was joined by Deputy City Solicitor Dana P. Moore, Assistant Solicitor Kara Lynch and William Alden McDaniel Jr. of Ballard Spahr LLP in Baltimore.