U.S. Fourth Circuit - The FindLaw 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Homeless Man Gets $ 2.3 Million Judgment Reinstated for Wrongful Arrest, Jailing

Marlow Humbert was homeless, but not anymore.

After Baltimore police wrongly arrested and jailed him for more than a year, a jury awarded him $2.3 million in damages against the city police for constitutional violations. A federal appeals court reinstated the judgment in Humbert v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore.

"[T]he Officers caused legal process to be instituted and maintained against him without probable cause to believe that he committed a crime," the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals said.

"Charles Village Rapist"

Humbert was living in a homeless shelter in 2008 during a time when Baltimore was terrorized by the "Charles Village Rapist." An unknown assailant had sexually assaulted two women in the area.

Police created a sketch of the suspect and circulated it in the victims' neighborhoods. About two weeks after the last assault, officers arrested Humbert because one victim said he looked like the sketch.

While he was in jail, police obtained no more evidence connecting Humbert to the crimes. On the contrary, the victim said she could not identify Humbert and DNA tests excluded him as the perpetrator.

The police did not tell the prosecutor about the exculpating evidence. Humbert sat in jail for 15 months, including solitary confinement, before the prosecutor found out and dismissed the case.

Humbert sued and won, but the trial judge set aside the award. Judge William D. Quarles, Jr. concluded that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity.

"Something Better"

On appeal, the First Circuit disagreed. The appeals court had problems with the warrant, the arrest, the detention, the police and the trial judge.

"No judicial officer employing the totality-of-the-circumstances approach would have issued the warrant simply because Humbert resembled a sketch," the appeals court said.

The panel said the officers had an "irrational" belief against Humbert and tried to steer the victim to identify him. "Put differently, the Officers caused legal process to be instituted and maintained against him without probable cause to believe that he committed a crime," they said.

On his Facebook page, Humbert put it this way: "As I look back on my life, I realize that every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being re-directed to something better."

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