Crime & Courts

Judge Manning nixes Columbia’s bid to deny USC professor $200,075 for DUI arrest

Judge Casey Manning denied motions Friday morning by the city of Columbia’s legal department to overturn a $200,075 jury verdict in the case of a bungled DUI arrest by city police that resulted in an innocent man being tossed in jail.

After hearing a presentation from city lawyer Natalie Ham that a $200,075 jury award for Darris Hassell should be reduced or tossed out and the city given a new trial, Manning ruled from the bench and denied her motion.

On May 18, after a three-day trial, a Richland County jury of eight whites and four African-Americans took just 41 minutes to decide that the city should pay Hassell, 47, for being falsely arrested and maliciously prosecuted.

Hassell, an African-American, had been arrested by a white officer, but race was not an issue in the case. Hassell did not resist his arrest, and the officer’s conduct was the main issue before the jury.

“Judge Manning said he thought the verdict was fair, that both sides got a fair trial and a jury of 12 strangers had done a very good job in determining this case,” said Hassell’s lawyer, Paul Reeves, in an interview after the hearing.

According to undisputed evidence, the arrest against Darris Hassell, 47, was characterized by a missing police dash cam video, a missing urine sample and a rookie police officer who apparently didn’t know how to make an arrest for DUI.

Moreover, during the arrest, Hassell, a popular University of South Carolina-Lancaster professor, was taken to the city police headquarters, where a breath analyzer machine showed he had absolutely no alcohol in his system. Hassell said he does not drink.

Despite a lack of evidence, the arresting officer then had Hassell transported to the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, where he spent the night and part of the next day in jail.

After Hassell asked for a jury trial on the DUI charges, the city quickly dismissed the case.

Hassell, a Columbia native and Wofford College graduate, has taught Spanish for 20 years at USC-Lancaster. He has been a church musician and choir leader at Brown Chapel AME church off Bluff Road, where he lives.

It is up to the city to now decide whether to appeal the case.

Ham, the city attorney, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“I would hope they would not appeal,” Reeves said. “At some point, the city has to take responsibility for what it has done.”

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