Cop didn’t follow procedure – didn’t know what he was doing
After listening to a tale of how a Columbia police officer with little evidence jailed a popular University of South Carolina-Lancaster professor for DUI, a Richland County jury awarded the professor $200,075.
It took just 41 minutes for the jury to settle on a verdict for false arrest after a three-day trial in state court last month, said Columbia lawyer Paul Reeves, who represented Darris Hassell.
Hassell’s case involved a night police traffic stop in downtown Columbia in February 2014, one of hundreds of such city police stops each year.
The lack of evidence in Hassell’s case was a potpourri of bungles
Unlike most DUI arrests, the lack of evidence in Hassell’s case was a potpourri of bungles – a missing urine test, a missing police dashcam video, as well as a breath test that showed Hassell’s blood alcohol content was 0.0, meaning none at all, Reeves said.
Nonetheless, the officer decided to charge Hassell with DUI and had him transported to the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, where he spent the next 16 hours, the lawsuit in the case charged.
Hassell, 47, grew up in Columbia, graduated from Keenan High School, then Wofford College in 1991. He’s a natural musician who plays piano by ear. He has led hymns for 20 years and the choir at Brown Chapel AME Church near Columbia.
Hassell lives in Columbia and commutes to Lancaster, where he has taught Spanish at the University of South Carolina-Lancaster for 20 years and coaches the women’s volleyball team.
“He is a beloved professor on our campus,” said Ron Cox, dean for academic and student affairs, who has been at USC-Lancaster for 15 years. “He’s a very popular and personable professor – his No. 1 goal is the success of the students.”
The city declined to comment.
The arresting officer is no longer with the city, according to court documents, and was not identified in court records viewed by The State newspaper.
Trial Judge Casey Manning is to hold a hearing Friday morning on a motion for a new trial.
The city cclaims verdict was clearly an attempt to punish the city for the former employee’s actions.
Police chief Skip Holbrook has been credited with upgrading the force’s professionalism. He said Thursday that because of the pending legal hearing, he could not comment.
‘Kept his cool’
Hassell is African-American; the arresting officer was white. The jury that heard the case was made up of eight white members and four African-Americans.
“I don’t think this was a racial issue. It was an issue of an officer who was not trained to do his job,” Hassell told The State.