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$151,000 Malicious Prosecution Award Upheld by Pennsylvania Appellate Court

by Chris Zoukis

A three judge panel of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has upheld a Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas finding that Detective Linda Blowes was liable for the tort of malicious prosecution to the tune of $151,000.

The unusual case started when Philadelphia Police Detective Blowes took a report from Danielle Morales indicating that her grandmother, Joyce Combs, had kidnapped her four-month-old twin daughters, Imani and Izhane Beamer. Based on what turned out to be nothing more than this statement, Blowes issued an affidavit of probable cause for the arrest of Joyce Marable. Marable was Comb's married name, which she abandoned after a divorce in 1974.

Several months later, after little to no further investigation, Combs was arrested in front of her colleagues and students at Bache-Martin Elementary School, where she had worked for over 15 years as a teacher's aide for severely disabled children.

Ms. Combs was not guilty of any crime, though. This is because even the most basic investigation by Detective Blowes would have revealed a major hole in the case: the twin girls did not exist.

It turns out that Ms. Morales made the whole thing up in an unusual attempt to reunite with her estranged husband.

Reviewing the proceedings below, the appellate court found that "there was sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that [Blowes'] affidavit in support of arrest was based upon material facts withheld or misrepresented, that it disregarded available exculpatory evidence, and that it was unsupported by statements from a witness known to be unreliable." In other words, Blowes never had probable cause to swear out an arrest warrant.

In addition to misleading statements in the affidavit of probable cause, the appellate court found that Blowes failed to follow police directives in her "investigation" of Combs.

"[Blowes] failed to discuss issuing an Amber Alert with her superiors...failed to request samples of the twins' DNA...failed to search the twins' residence...failed to verify the information provided by Ms. Morales, and...failed to re-interview the parent within seventy-two (72) hours and once a week within the first month of the missing persons reports," wrote the court.

All told, the facts of the substandard investigation by Blowes amounted to malicious prosecution. It is not clear whether Detective Blowes is still employed with the Philadelphia Police Department.

Case: Combs v. Blowes, Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, Case No. 1561 C.D. 2013 (February 17, 2015).

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Related legal case

Combs v. Blowes



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