A federal judge has set Jan. 19 as the trial date for a Rochester, NY, man’s lawsuit claiming that Davidson police used excessive force and falsely arrested him in 2011. Richard Hagins says he’s facing an uphill battle in the suit, after his lawyer resigned two weeks ago.
Hagins sued two officers, the police chief and the town of Davidson a year ago. The suit names officers Scott Searcy and Melvin Waller, Police Chief Jeanne Miller and the Town of Davidson as defendants.
Hagins initially filed the suit at Mecklenburg County Superior Court, but the town had it moved to US District Court in Charlotte.
The lawsuit came in November 2014, three years to the day after the incident on Nov. 20, 2011 – the last day Hagins could have filed under the state’s 3-year statute of limitations rules.
The town eventually dropped charges against Hagins and a companion with him at the time of the incident. In its response to the suit, the town denied the officers acted wrongly and requested a jury trial. The suit also says the officers are entitled to immunity because they were acting in their roles as police officers.
The two sides have tried unsuccessfully to reach an out-of-court settlement.
Davidson police chief Miller said the town is eager for the trial to begin. “We respect the trial system and look forward to the opportunity to present the department’s view of the incident,” Miller said in an email.
She had no further comment on the case or on Hagins’s allegations.
Hagins said he is concerned about the case. His lawyer, Keith Booker, stopped talking to him and recently resigned from the case. So far, he has been unable to find another lawyer willing to take on his case, and he may be forced to represent himself.
He also contacted the local NAACP, but that organization said it was too late to help him, he said.
I originally reported this story for DavidsonNews.net in January 2015. Here’s are details from that story. (See the full story here – PDF)
On the night of his arrest, Hagins and a companion, Gina Fields, were on their way back to High Point from a dinner party in Charlotte.Hagins had pulled his van off I-77 near Exit 30 because Fields told him she needed to throw up.
According to his complaint, she was vomiting when Searcy “came running down the
shoulder of the interstate with a gun. … Mr. Hagins believed they were being robbed.”
Fields confirms that she was sick. “Richard came over and started rubbing my back … all of a sudden we heard, ‘Get on the ground, get on the ground.’ And we saw a police officer running toward us,” Fields said in an interview this week.
Hagins says in the complaint that Searcy did not identify himself as a police officer, and says the officer tackled him and slammed his face into the pavement, which broke his glasses and dazed him.
In its response, the town acknowledges that Searcy did not identify himself, but says he was wearing his uniform. And the town says he was not carrying a gun, but a Taser.
Shortly after, according to the lawsuit, Waller arrived in a marked patrol
car. Hagins says he then disclosed that he had a concealed weapon with a permit.
The officers arrested him and charged him with carrying a concealed weapon.
Fields also was arrested after she objected to being left on the interstate alone as officers prepared to take Hagins away.
Charges against both Hagins and Fields eventually were dropped.
The lawsuit claims the officers violated the fourth amendment protection against
unreasonable search and seizure in their arrest of the pair.
UPDATE: The Davidson Town Board was scheduled to discuss this case in a closed session at its Jan. 12, 2016, meeting. The board is consulting with the town attorney. See the agenda here.
Meanwhile, Hagins told me he is now working with a Charlotte lawyer and local civil rights activists.