Courtroom outburst leads to further delay in SEPTA-bus assault case

Cassie Darby started talking within seconds of stepping inside Courtroom 806 from an adjoining holding cell.

There, the 49-year-old was scheduled to stand trial Wednesday on charges that she allegedly assaulted a NewsWorks freelance photographer on a SEPTA Route 23 bus in late May, an incident from which surveillance footage went viral.

The day’s proceedings never quite got underway, though.

They actually screeched to a complete halt after Darby learned, via public defender Nicole Cross, that a plea bargain offered by prosecutors included several months of jail time.

Darby quickly erupted into protest and momentarily broke into tears.

“I want to take this matter into my own hands,” said a street-clothed Darby in reaction to an offer that, if accepted, would have sent her to prison for six to 23 months with two years of parole to follow. “[I’m not going to jail] for nothing.”

A courtroom disruption

Darby’s high-pitched outburst continued even after Municipal Court Judge Felice Stack ordered her removed from the courtroom and returned to the cell in an adjoining room. The door between rooms was left open as lawyers mulled the most appropriate next step.

Officers and lawyers alike openly reacted in apparent disbelief to Darby’s behavior.

Stack ultimately ordered that Darby undergo a second psychological evaluation, noting that it still wasn’t clear whether she was competent to stand trial.

Darby’s lawyer said she attempted to consult with her client, but “could not make much sense of her responses.”

For her part, Darby claimed she was prepared to proceed, telling Stack that she wanted a trial.

“I am competent your honor,” said Darby, who was declared fit for trial after an Aug. 31 evaluation.

Prosecutor, victim cry foul

Willis Stamps, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case, seemed dubious that Darby required a second evaluation.

“She just didn’t want to go to jail,” he said of Darby, who is charged with simple assault and recklessly endangering another person.

The victim, NewsWorks freelance photographer Bas Slabbers, was equally upset about the outcome and had few words following Wednesday’s court appearance, which was his third.

Calling the situation “sickening,” Slabbers said Darby “seemed coherent to me. I’m overwhelmed with what just happened there.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.