Jury sides with town in man’s lawsuit over 2011 arrest

A federal jury in Charlotte has ruled against a New York man who sued Davidson police over his 2011 arrest on I-77 near Exit 30. Richard Hagins had claimed Davidson officers used excessive force and falsely arrested him.

Hagins is African American. The original suit, filed in November 2014, named officer Scott Searcy, who is white, and Melvin Waller, who is black. The two officers had responded to a call in November 2011 for help on the northbound Exit 30 ramp from I-77.

The suit also named Police Chief Jeanne Miller and the Town of Davidson.

The verdict came after a two-day trial on Jan. 19 and 20 at US District Court in Charlotte.

On the first day, Judge Robert J. Conrad Jr. dismissed the claims against Waller and Miller. He also dismissed a claim that the town was negligent in hiring the officers.

After testimony about the incident, and evidence including police car videos and Hagins’s medical records, the jury said Hagins had failed to prove his allegations against Searcy – the lone remaining defendant.

Hagins had struggled as the trial neared, after his lawyer resigned from the case in December. In the end, the Rochester, NY, man represented himself. The town’s lawyers presented video and other evidence that contradicted Hagins’s account of the incident.

Contacted this week, Hagins said he would like to appeal, though it wasn’t immediately clear on what grounds.

THE INCIDENT

Hagins filed his lawsuit at NC Superior Court in Nov. 20, 2014, three years to the day after he and a companion were arrested. It was the last day Hagins could have filed under the state’s 3-year statute of limitations rules.

A month later, at the town’s request, the case was moved to US District Court in Charlotte.

On the night of his arrest, Hagins had pulled his van off I-77 near Exit 30 because a female companion told him she felt sick. 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.”

Hagins says 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 acknowledged 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. [The concealed weapon charge was later dismissed on a technicality, according to a town spokeswoman.]

Hagins’s companion, Gina Fields, also was arrested after she objected to being left on the interstate alone as officers prepared to take Hagins away.

The lawsuit claimed the officers violated the fourth amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure in their arrest of the pair.

The town denied any wrongdoing in the arrests, in its response filed Dec. 29, 2014. The town also says Searcy smelled alcohol on Hagins’s breath.

The lawsuit also had alleged that the town and the police chief failed to “exercise ordinary and reasonable care” in hiring, training and supervising the officers. But Judge Conrad also dismissed that part of Hagins’s complaint.

Town spokeswoman Cristina Shaul said this week that the town presented evidence at the trial which called into question the testimony from both Hagins and Fields. The evidence included video from a police car camera.

Shaul was not sure Thursday how much the town spent on legal help in the case. Davidson was represented by Scott MacLatchie and Brandie Smith of the Charlotte firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice.

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