A federal jury awarded $2.3 million to a Baltimore man who was held in solitary for 15 months after he was arrested for rape and branded by city police as the "Charles Village Rapist" before forensic evidence cleared him of those charges.
Marlo Humbert, 51, filed a $10 million lawsuit in U.S. District Court in 2011 that named former Mayor Martin O'Malley and several arresting officers. The suit alleged that a pervasive culture tolerating mass arrests and public hysteria over several attacks in Charles Village led to his detention.
The jury ruled unanimously, finding that three city police officers violated Humbert's Fourth Amendment right to be free from malicious prosecution. He was awarded $800,000 in compensatory damages and $1.5 million in punitive damages.
"The verdict was surprising," said Howard Libit, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in an email. "The city intends to file post-trial motions and, if necessary, an appeal."
Humbert's attorney, Charles H. Edwards IV, alleged that police pressured a rape victim into identifying Humbert as her assailant, even though she had said she could not positively identify him without seeing him in a lineup and hearing his voice. The lawsuit also alleges that police manipulated mug shots so that the victim would identify Humbert as the attacker.
The lawsuit alleged that police and the news media branded Humbert the "Charles Village Rapist," a term associated with a series of violent attacks that occurred in Charles Village and Mount Vernon between June and November 2008.
The suit alleged that police obtained DNA evidence in June 2008, a month after Humbert was arrested, indicating that Humbert could not have committed the crime, but did not drop the charges until July 2009.
Edwards said the jury's verdict reveals questionable police work, which he said can be as damaging as physical brutality.
"Everyone has been focused on police brutality" in Baltimore, Edwards said. "This is not something you're going to catch on cameras. It brings attention to an aspect of Baltimore policing that goes unnoticed and is extremely hard to prove."
Humbert was accused of being a "serial rapist," Edwards said.
"The thing about a rapist is this: When the [jail] population knows you're a rapist, you're going to die," he said. "People would throw fecal matter at him and call him a rapist. He was afraid he'd be stabbed. He couldn't sleep at night."