The Baltimore Police Department must pay $180,000 to a pharmacy
technician who was wrongfully snagged in a 2005 drug bust outside
Lexington Market, the Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled.
The unanimous decision Friday upended years of precedent and potentially
could make it easier for citizens to sue police officers who make
arrests they know to be illegal.
The judges unanimously upheld a Baltimore Circuit Court jury's decision
against Officer Arnold E. Houghton, who five years ago ordered the
arrest of Cheryl Forrest even though other officers protested that she
According to the Court of Appeals, on May 25, 2005, Houghton, watching a
live video surveillance feed, saw three people engaged in a drug deal on
North Eutaw Street. The participants were the dealer, a male buyer and a
woman wearing a white shirt or coat and carrying a red umbrella.
Houghton radioed colleagues and told them to arrest the people involved.
The officers caught the two men and found ***, but the woman got away.
Houghton, watching on the video from a downtown command center, said he
saw the woman embrace another woman nearby and, the court said, "assumed
that the embrace concealed the transfer or sale of ***."
The court said Houghton lost sight of the second woman and then scanned
the area with his camera. "The female purchaser was no longer in view,
but Houghton could see someone whom he believed to be the second woman,"
the court said.
That woman was Cheryl Forrest, who was "some distance away" at a bus
stop. Unlike the suspect, she was wearing a black jacket and dark jeans,
but like her, she was carrying a red umbrella. "Houghton instructed
Officer Timothy Williams to arrest Forrest," the court said. Williams
searched her but found no ***.
"Houghton nonetheless instructed Williams to arrest Forrest," the court
said. "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."
After Forrest was taken into custody, she testified "that she overheard
Williams discussing the possibility that he may have arrested the wrong
person," the court said.
Public officials who perform negligent acts generally cannot be sued.
But the court decided that Forrest did not have to meet what had been a
two-pronged test in similar cases - that the officer acted not only with
intentional malfeasance and but also with malice. In other words, to win
in the past, a person had to prove not only being purposely and
wrongfully arrested, but also that the officer knew the arrest was
illegal but did it anyway.
The ruling means that from now on, people who are falsely arrested will
only have to prove that the officers acted negligently. The Appeals
Court didn't even consider the issue of whether Houghton has acted
maliciously, saying it didn't matter.
"For more than 20 years," the ruling said, "this court has held that
common law public official immunity does not apply to intentional
[acts]. ... This court will not overturn precedent in a vacuum, nor on a
While Houghton can't claim immunity from the false arrest suit, a
Baltimore Circuit Court judge ruled previously that Williams can.
Criminal charges against Forrest were dismissed.
"The court has now made it clear that when you file these torts, there
is no protection regarding malice," Forrest's attorney, James L. Rhodes,
said. Houghton joined the department in 1988 but is no longer employed
there. He and his attorney for the civil trial, Patrick D. Sheridan,
could not be reached for comment Friday.