The Baltimore Police Department has a history of corruption. It routinely engages in the use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment, planting evidence to wrongfully charge innocent suspects, and wholesale criminal racketeering.
A Case of Wrongful Arrest and Intentional Suppression of Evidence
The police in Baltimore are also known to quickly, and wrongfully, arrest individuals for crimes they did not commit. That’s precisely what Baltimore police did to Marlow Humbert in 2008. Not only did the police falsely arrest Humbert and charge him “with committing the heinous act of sexual assault,” they failed to disclose to the prosecuting attorney that the victim could not positively identify Humbert and that DNA evidence excluded him as a suspect.
2.3 Million Dollar Verdict for False Arrest and Imprisonment
In an August 7, 2017 decision, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a $2.3 million dollar damage award against the City of Baltimore because of Humbert’s false arrest. The appeals court chronicled the facts that led up to Humbert’s arrest, causing him to spent 15 months in pretrial solitary confinement before the state’s attorney dismissed the charges against him.
The case began on April 29, 2008 when a woman was violently raped in her home located in the Charles Village neighborhood in Baltimore. Detective Dominic Griffin and Sergeant Chris Jones caught the case. The rape victim described her assailant to the officers as an African-American male in his late 30s or early 40s who was about 5’7” in height. After collecting the victims clothing and physical evidence, Detective Griffin escorted the victim to a hospital for rape kit exam.
A well-trained and experienced artist, the victim was able to provide the police with a detailed sketch of her attacker. The police created a “wanted” poster from the composite drawing provided by the victim. Shortly after disseminating the poster throughout the community, the police began to receive tips “regarding people who resembled the sketch and description.”
Rape Victim Could Not Positively ID Suspect
Six days after the sexual assault, Detective Caprice Smith showed the victim an array of six photographs and a photo album with an additional 45 photos of possible suspects. The victim informed Detective Smith that the photos were distorted and that he could not identify an African-American suspect from black-and-white photos.
On May 7, 2008, Humbert was stopped by Baltimore police a couple of blocks from the victim’s home and took a picture of him because he “resembled the wanted poster.” Humbert informed the officers that he was “homeless.” The following day Detectives Griffin and Smith, accompanied by Sgt. Jones, took another photo album of suspects, including Humbert’s photo, to the victim’s home for her viewing.
The police said the victim became “very emotional and started crying” when he saw Humbert’s photo, telling the officers, “that’s him.” Although the victim wrote “that’s him” on the back of Humbert’s photo, she informed Detectives Griffin and Smith that she would not “positively identify Humbert as her assailant because she needed to see him in a physical lineup.” Telling the victim they would follow normal procedure, the officers left the victim’s home.
Police Lie on Search Warrant Affidavit
Based on these turn of events, the police generated a second “wanted” poster—this time identifying Humbert as a suspect in the sexual assault. Detective Smith then applied for a search warrant, stating in her warrant affidavit that the victim had “positively” identified Humbert as her attacker.
On May 20, 2008, Humbert was working when a police officer approached him with the wanted poster and asked whether he was the man on the flyer. Humbert initially said yes, but when he saw the word “rape,” he immediately told the officer “that’s not me.” The officer arrested Humbert and escorted him to the police station. He was subsequently placed in a solitary cell in the county jail where he remained for the next fifteen months.
Victim Repeats Concerns that Couldn’t Positively ID
When the victim learned about Humbert’s arrest, she called Sgt. Jones and told him she could not positively identify him as her assailant. She nonetheless went to Humbert’s arraignment on June 23, 2008 but still could not recognize him. She informed Sgt. Jones again that she could not positively identify Humbert. She nonetheless agreed to testify against Humbert after Sgt. Jones lied to her about the police having DNA showing him to be her attacker.
Police Lied to Victim About DNA Match to Secure Testimony
The victim subsequently met with State’s Attorney Joakim Tan to discuss the case and she agreed to testify against Humbert “so long as there was DNA evidence” showing him as her attacker.
Throughout Humbert’s detention, the police requested several DNA samples and “received reports excluding him as the source of the DNA found on the victim and her clothing.” The first exclusion report was received on June 2, 2008—three weeks before Humbert’s arraignment and at least a month before the victim talked to the state’s attorney—and the last report was received on December 15, 2008.
The normal protocol is that DNA reports are obtained from the lab by the state’s attorney, but this time the reports were obtained by the police.
DNA Test Excluded Suspect
On May 12, 2008, just two days after Humbert’s arrest, State’s Attorney Tan sent a memo to Detectives Griffin, Smith, and Sgt. Jones that “any and all information received by BPD in connection with Humbert’s case be immediately delivered to him office”—an obvious indicator that he had had previous problems with the police withholding evidence.
At Humbert’s arraignment, State’s Attorney Tan informed the court “that he heard, but had not confirmed, that Humbert’s DNA did not match any found on the victim.” Tan told the court, and the officers present, that he “needed the DNA reports for confirmation.”
The officers involved in the Humbert case were apparently not satisfied with the June 2, 2008 negative DNA report so they re-submitted additional DNA evidence that once again came back negative to Humbert on December 15, 2008.
Police Failed to Give DNA Reports to DA’s Office
Still, the officers did not furnish either the June or December negative reports to Tan until May 11, 2009. The State’s Attorney then informed the victim that there was “no DNA evidence” to connect Humbert to her attack. It was at that point that Tan learned that the victim had told the police she could not positively identify Humbert and would not testify against him without DNA evidence.
On July 30, 2009, State’s Attorney Tan entered a nolle prosequi, dismissal, as to Humbert’s charges and he was released from custody.
Civil Rights Cases Leads to $2.3 Jury Award
In February 2011, Humbert filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights lawsuit against the City of Baltimore and its police department. A jury heard all the evidence and found that the police had violated Humbert’s civil rights. Jurors awarded him $2.3 million in punitive and compensatory damages. The city and the BPD promptly moved for a judgment of acquittal on the premise that they were entitled to qualified immunity because they had “probable cause” to arrest Humbert.
Fed Judge Strikes Damages Citing Qualified Immunity
U.S. District Court Judge William D. Quarles, Jr., a Republican appointed to the bench in 2003 by former President George W. Bush, agreed with the officers and threw out the damage award. Judge Quarles retired from the bench in February 2016 before the Fourth Circuit overturned his decision and reinstated the entire $2.3 million damage award against the officers who had so blatantly violated Humbert’s civil rights.
The Baltimore Police Department continues to rack up civil damage awards for its unrelenting pattern of misconduct. And U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is creating the potential for even more damage awards against the BPD by seeking a delay in the “reforms” the Justice Department under President Obama had ordered the department to implement. By ordering review and delay of consent decrees entered into between police departments and DOJ, AG Sessions and President Trump are encouraging police departments like Baltimore and Ferguson to continue the kind of arrest misconduct exhibited in the Humbert case.
One good thing to remember: Sessions and Trump do not control the juries in this country, yet.
By: Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer John T. Floyd.