E-Alerts & Press Releases

PJC Joins the ACLU of Maryland to Hold Public Officials Accountable in Court

On July 14, 2009, the Public Justice Center joined in an amicus curiae brief filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland to defend the right of Maryland citizens to hold public officials accountable in court when those officials deliberately break the law. The amicus brief supported Cheryl Forrest in the case of Houghton v. Forrest, No. 12, Sept. Term 2009 in the Maryland Court of Appeals.

Ms. Forrest had alleged that Officer Arnold Houghton of the Baltimore City Police Department had been monitoring a Baltimore street corner by a secure camera when he witnessed what he believed was a narcotics transaction. Officer Houghton became distracted by a different incident and then subsequently ordered another officer to arrest Ms. Forrest. When the arresting officer found no drugs on Ms. Forrest’s person, he asked Officer Houghton to recheck the video tape to ensure that it was Ms. Forrest who he had seen purchasing the alleged narcotics. Officer Houghton did not and immediately ordered her arrest. Ms. Forrest alleged that Officer Houghton acted with reckless indifference to whether or not she was the person he had observed purchasing the drugs. A jury found in favor of Ms. Forrest for claims of battery and false imprisonment, but Officer Houghton appealed, arguing that he should be immune from suit as a public official.
The amicus brief discussed the importance of holding public officials accountable in court when those officials act deliberately to deprive Maryland citizens of their rights. In this case, the jury found that Officer Houghton was not merely negligent in imprisoning Ms. Forrest but had confined Ms. Forrest with deliberate indifference to whether or not she had actually committed the crime. As such, Officer Houghton acted with “malice” as it is defined under the law and therefore should be liable for damages. And, even if he did not act with malice, the jury found that his acts were nonetheless intentional, and he should therefore be held liable. The amicus brief highlighted long-standing Maryland precedent holding public officials responsible for their intentional, illegal acts and emphasized that any contrary ruling by the Court would leave Maryland citizens without a means of seeking redress from public officials when those officials intentionally disregard their rights. Debbie Jeon and Ajmel Quereshi of the ACLU of Maryland authored the amicus brief.

« Back