The Maryland Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a jury award against the Baltimore City Police Department in Houghton v. Forrest on Friday. Here were the facts:
Houghton observed a drug sale on North Eutaw Street in Baltimore City through a security camera feed. Three persons participated in the sale: the drug dealer, a male purchaser, and an alleged female purchaser who was wearing a white shirt or coat. As the transaction was being completed, Houghton contacted an arresting team, comprising Officer Timothy Williams and another officer, and instructed them to arrest the participants in the sale. The arresting team took the dealer and the male purchaser into custody, finding drugs on each of them, but the alleged female purchaser had left the scene. Houghton then witnessed, through the video feed, the alleged female purchaser embrace a second woman nearby. Houghton assumed that the embrace concealed the transfer or sale of drugs from the female purchaser to the second woman. This second woman was wearing a black jacket, dark jeans, and carrying a red umbrella. Houghton moved the camera back to the arrest, and in doing so, lost sight of the second woman.
After monitoring the arrest, Houghton scanned the area for the female purchaser and the second woman. The female purchaser was no longer in view, but Houghton could see someone whom he believed to be the second woman. In fact, the person in Houghton’s view was Forrest, who was standing some distance away at a nearby bus stop. Forrest was wearing different colored pants and jacket than the second woman, though both were carrying red umbrellas. Houghton instructed Williams to arrest Forrest. Williams approached Forrest, and asked if she had “anything illegal” on her person; Forrest said she did not, and consented to a search of her person. The search revealed no contraband, but Houghton nonetheless instructed Williams to arrest Forrest. Williams suggested that Houghton review the video footage to make certain that Forrest was indeed the second woman. Houghton did not do so, but nonetheless confirmed that Forrest was to be arrested. Williams handcuffed and arrested Forrest, over Forrest’s protests, and placed her with the other arrestees. Forrest testified at trial that she overheard Williams discussing the possibility that he may have arrested the wrong person, and that Williams was instructed to take her into custody nonetheless. Forrest was moved to Central Booking, though she was not summoned to court and charges against her were eventually dismissed.
The jury awarded $171.60 in actual damages, $180,000.00 in compensatory damages, and no punitive damages.
The plaintiff, in this case, was put in just an awful situation. Can you imagine how you would feel? Still, I can’t help but wonder about how long her pain and suffering was in this case. I have clients who are in physical pain every day of their lives and have accumulated large medical bills and get a similar recovery.
I’m not condemning this verdict and it is worth noting that everything I know about this case is quoted in the facts above. You have to sit on a jury to know what you think the real value of the case is. It seems overwhelmingly likely that the jury really liked the Plaintiff and did not like the police officer. All I’m saying is that my greatest sympathies clearly lean towards people whose lives have been changed forever from physical injury.
You can read the full opinion here.