Federal appeals judges unanimously reinstated a $2.3 million award to a Baltimore man mistaken for the "Charles Village Rapist" and held in solitary confinement for more than a year beginning in 2008.
Marlow Humbert sued the Baltimore Police Department in 2011, saying detectives had DNA results within about a month of his arrest that exonerated him, but continued to hold him on the rape charge. He was homeless when arrested.
The two sexual assaults in 2008 — in the 2600 block of St. Paul St. on March 5, then four blocks south on April 30 — incited fear of a serial rapist and police named Humbert as the suspect. After he was arrested, he was not released until about 14 months after DNA evidence failed to link him to the crimes.
Humbert sued the officers and police department in federal court and a jury ruled unanimously, finding three city police officers violated Humbert's right to be free from malicious prosecution. He was awarded $800,000 in compensatory damages and $1.5 million in punitive damages in April 2015.
About two months later, U.S. District Judge William Quarles Jr. reversed the jury decision, concluding the detectives had probable cause and were entitled to immunity. In overturning the decision, Quarles wrote that police had not acted with "actual malice."
Humbert appealed and three federal appeals judges in Richmond, Va., unanimously ordered on Monday that the award be reinstated.
"The questionable investigatory strategies of Baltimore City Police Department officers led to Humbert's unlawful arrest," Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote. "Afterwards, the officers failed to inform the State's Attorney that the victim could not positively identify Humbert and that DNA reports excluded him as a suspect."
The detectives first received reports excluding Humbert as the source of DNA found on the victim's clothing in June 2008, but did not share those reports with prosecutors until May 2009, the judge wrote.
"The Officers failed to promptly give the reports," Gregory wrote, "because the victim only agreed to testify against Humbert based on their assurances that DNA evidence supported Humbert's guilt."
A Baltimore police spokesman declined to comment on the ruling. A spokesman for Mayor Catherine Pugh said the city's attorneys are exploring their remaining legal options.
"Mayor Pugh will reserve any comment until all avenues have been exhausted," spokesman Anthony McCarthy said.
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Humbert could not be reached Tuesday. But his attorney, Charles Edwards IV, said he felt confident the award will stand. He said Humbert was harassed and abused by other prisoners, even sprayed with their urine and feces.
"Mr. Humbert was preyed upon in a city that has for far too long turned a blind eye to needlessly inflicted harm upon the residents that need protection the most — the defenseless," Edwards said.
The two assaults in 2008 alarmed families; police assigned extra foot patrols and community associations sent out email warnings. The first attack happened the night of March 5, 2008, when a man with a knife attacked a woman as she was walking in her apartment. The man threw her down the hallway and tried to rape her when she screamed for help. Her attacker ran when the woman's roommate opened the door.
The next month, a woman was raped at gunpoint by a man who followed her into her St. Paul Street apartment, asked her for money and attacked her on her couch.