Lockn’ shock: Nelson County cop compares ABC agent to “storm trooper”

Photo: Tom Daly Photo: Tom Daly

The Nelson County Sheriff’s Office and the Virginia Board of Alcoholic Beverage Control took starkly different approaches to policing last year’s Lockn’ Music Festival, testimony revealed at a May 16 hearing in Richmond, which concluded the state agency’s investigation into whether the festival should lose its license to sell alcohol. While ABC agents videotaped a topless woman and documented more than 100 alleged incidents of people using drugs—mostly smoking pot—the Nelson Sheriff’s department took a more relaxed approach and saved scathing criticism for the ABC.

“We knew people were going to smoke dope, we knew they were going to drink beer,” said Captain Ron Robertson with the Nelson Sheriff’s Office. “That happens at every festival I’ve been to.”

The four-day music festival at 5,000-acre Oak Ridge estate last September was attended by 25,000 people who flocked to see performances by musicians such as the String Cheese Incident, Widespread Panic, Phish lead singer Trey Anastasio, and Furthur. While there were no alcohol citations and Nelson County Sheriff David Brooks described the festival as having “little to no problems” in a post-event press release, an ABC disciplinary complaint claims violations were widespread. At an initial hearing in Lynchburg on April 30, testimony focused on videotaped evidence of nine alleged drug offenses. The ABC complaint against Lockn’s concessionaire, Best Beverage Catering, also claims prohibited conduct—the topless woman—and that concert lighting wasn’t bright enough to discern possible criminal behavior.

VABC Nudity_blur
ABC Special Agent Matthew C. Layman documented this topless sunbather at last summer’s Lockn’ Music Festival. Submitted photo

Unlike his fellow law-enforcers at the ABC, who had earlier testified they only observed but did not arrest lawbreakers because of the potential for rioting, Robertson expressed no such qualms about officer safety in the large crowd. He said he and his deputies responded numerous times to calls from festival security and made seven major drug arrests.

Robertson testified that the Nelson County commonwealth’s attorney had advised officers in his department to use their discretion to address those in possession of small amounts of pot. “We could have overrun the court system and absolutely bogged down Nelson County courts,” said Robertson, who acknowledged under questioning from ABC attorney Elizabeth Flournoy that state law does not permit such officer discretion.

At least one ABC agent seemed to take a more aggressive law enforcement stance, Robertson testified, describing an encounter at a festival tent in which he characterized ABC Special Agent Matthew C. Layman’s behavior as that of “a storm trooper or Gestapo agent.” Said Robertson, “I didn’t like the way he talked or acted,” but said he told Layman he’d still back him up.

Robertson wasn’t the only one whose testimony painted Layman’s festival enforcement style as over-zealous.

Lockn’ festival director Nigel James, whose 32 years in music festivals includes work with the legendary Bill Graham Presents, testified that things got off to a rocky start at a pre-festival security meeting with Agent Layman. “He walked into my personal space and started shouting that there was going to be a riot and people would be stabbed,” said James. The ABC agent said bands like Widespread Panic would bring drug users, testified James.

“I did not get in his personal space,” said Layman on rebuttal. “I did not refuse to shake hands. I did not intimidate him.” Layman also said he didn’t remember specifically saying to organizers that festival-goers would be “raped, murdered, or stabbed,” although he later acknowledged he could have said it.

James did not witness the nine incidents of alleged drug use documented in ABC photographs and included in the complaint, he said, but did not seem surprised that some people had smoked marijuana. “It’s a music festival,” said James. “I saw the occasional person using marijuana.”

“Did you take any action?” asked ABC hearing officer Clara Williamson.

“No,” answered James.

Security consultant Roger Stephenson, who teaches courses on entertainment security and worked for 26 years as a Norfolk sheriff’s deputy, was hired by Lockn’ as a liaison to the ABC, and he said he’d encountered Agent Layman in Virginia Beach when Stephenson worked as public safety director at Verizon Amphitheater.

After the hearing, Stephenson said he wasn’t surprised by the testimony describing Layman as aggressive.

“He did the same thing in Virginia Beach,” he said. “I’ve testified at two ABC hearings, both of them brought by Layman. I think he has his own agenda—also known as an abuse of power.”

Layman declined a request for comment on the Lockn’ camp’s allegations of bias. ABC attorney Flournoy said she was “shocked” at the allegations. “I felt, frankly, it was mudslinging,” she said.

Dim lighting during the festival is another charge that threatens Lockn’s ABC license. Agent Layman showed a two-minute video he made during the Friday night, September 6, Zac Brown concert. The illumination, he said, “was not enough to see how old [audience members] were, if they were intoxicated or committing other crimes.”

Lack of illumination is one of the allegations the Virginia Board of Alcoholic Beverage Control makes against the Lockn' Music Festival. Photo: ABC video still
Lack of illumination shown in this video still is one of the allegations the Virginia Board of Alcoholic Beverage Control makes against the Lockn’ Music Festival. Submitted photo

Security liaison Stephenson testified that additional lights had been added in the porta-john area after Layman said the lighting was insufficient. Stephenson also said he had no problem seeing individuals during the show. “You cannot light a concert like a baseball field,” he said.

The third charge against Lockn’ is prohibited behavior—a topless woman sunbathing in a field Saturday afternoon. Agent Layman said he immediately noticed the prone female and made a video of the violation. He observed the woman for 10 minutes, and called in other agents to witness the prohibited behavior.

“Her areola was completely exposed,” testified Layman. “The licensee should have seen her and taken action.”

Lockn’ witnesses testified they were unaware of the unauthorized sunbathing, but festival organizer Dave Frey said another topless woman attempted to come in with body paint on her top half, and was not allowed to enter.

The claim of ignorance is not a valid defense, said the ABC’s Flournoy.

“[ABC] regulation does not require proof of knowledge,” she said. “It does require proof the conduct was allowed.”

Along with the “periods of pitch blackness” during the concert and the documented drug use, “We ask the hearing officer to consider revocation for those reasons,” said Flournoy.

“Someone could streak through a facility and its license could be revoked,” countered Lockn’ attorney John Russell. He also noted that the ABC had no written guidelines on the number of watts required for illumination. “It seems to my client like a ‘gotcha’ moment, with no feedback and no standards,” he said.

He pointed out that even the 100-plus incidents of drug use alleged by the ABC were a small percentage in a crowd of 25,000. “We did what we could on-site to manage conduct,” he said.

Russell also spoke out about Layman’s “potential bias about the bands” playing at Lockn’. “The perspective of Agent Layman was that there were going to be drug users and maybe he went out and found them,” said Russell.

If the license is revoked, festival goers would still be allowed to bring their own alcoholic beverages. That would be unsafe because organizers would be unable to control the drinking, said Lockn’ organizer Dave Frey, who vowed to appeal should the ruling favor revocation. He said he wants Lockn’ to be like the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, showcasing Nelson breweries.

And Frey questioned the use of ABC resources at Lockn’ to threaten what could be an economic boon for Nelson County, “especially since nothing about this has anything to do with alcoholic beverage violations.”

The hearing came the same week that ABC Chief Operating Officer Curtis Coleburn announced his retirement. Last year, the ABC came under scrutiny when sparkling-water-carrying UVA student Elizabeth Daly was arrested by agents. She’s filed a $40-million lawsuit against the state.

Hearing officer Williamson said she would issue a written decision on Lockn’s license as soon as possible.


  • 2011Custer

    What problem are they “solving” here? There were no riots…people did smoke dope and there was no mass-murder. The ABC, in its infinite wisdom (arresting a sparkling water girl), also failed to acknowledge that since 1979 it has been permissible to possess and smoke pot if you have a medical prescription in the Commonwealth…I personally had one guy who was from CA with his script card smoking by me…no problems and it was an amazing festival. These Storm Troopers need to be reeled in a little…people are getting tired of an overbearing government…we need to be allowed to peacefully congregate on private property w/o the approval of the ABC….#DTOM

  • Thomas Kelo

    I would also suggest that in 2014 it is pretty ridiculous that topless men = OK but topless women = NOT OK. Is it still 1914?

    The VA ABC should just be eliminated at this point. Lots of states have private alcohol distribution and local police agencies can be placed in charge of policing underage consumption.

  • RandomThoughts

    Nelson County Sheriff David Brooks being a duly elected Sheriff is the highest authority in Nelson County answering only to the people of Nelson County. The elected duty Sheriff Brooks is entrusted with is to protect and defend his citizens of Nelson County from all enemies, both “foreign and domestic.”

    I would kindly request Sheriff Brooks to instruct the Virginia Board of Alcoholic Beverage (out of ) Control to go F**K themselves while ordering the ABC out of Nelson County During the Locn’ festival or they will face arrest .

    • r.ralf

      Howdy Cliven!

      • RandomThoughts

        LOL , That’ pretty funny right there.

  • Chris Luper

    Sounds like the ABC board needs to reign in over-zealous little Hitlers like Matthew Layman, who apparently has a long history of this kind of law enforcement. Enablers like Elizabeth Flourney in the ABC office don’t help. You can look at her past and see how eager she is to throw the book at people for often honest mistakes or alleged lack of oversight that often isn’t reasonable. Virginia would do good to get people like this out of positions of power.

  • wondering

    “The third charge against Lockn’ is prohibited behavior—a topless woman
    sunbathing in a field Saturday afternoon. Agent Layman said he
    immediately noticed the prone female and made a video of the violation.
    He observed the woman for 10 minutes, and called in other agents to
    witness the prohibited behavior.” ~ need to film for 10min and call in cronies to watch ~ ”

    § 18.2-386.1. Unlawful filming, videotaping or photographing of another;

    A. It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly and intentionally
    videotape, photograph, or film any nonconsenting person or create any
    videographic or still image record by any means whatsoever of the
    nonconsenting person if (i) that person is totally nude, clad in
    undergarments, or in a state of undress so as to expose the genitals, pubic
    area, buttocks or female breast in a restroom, dressing room, locker room,
    hotel room, motel room, tanning bed, tanning booth, bedroom or other
    location; or (ii) the videotape, photograph, film or videographic or still
    image record is created by placing the lens or image-gathering component of
    the recording device in a position directly beneath or between a person’s
    legs for the purpose of capturing an image of the person’s intimate parts or
    undergarments covering those intimate parts when the intimate parts or
    undergarments would not otherwise be visible to the general public; and when
    the circumstances set forth in clause (i) or (ii) are otherwise such that the
    person being videotaped, photographed, filmed or otherwise recorded would
    have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

    B. The provisions of this section shall not apply to filming, videotaping or
    photographing or other still image or videographic recording by (i)
    law-enforcement officers pursuant to a criminal investigation which is
    otherwise lawful or (ii) correctional officials and local or regional jail
    officials for security purposes or for investigations of alleged misconduct
    involving a person committed to the Department of Corrections or to a local
    or regional jail, or to any sound recording of an oral conversation made as a
    result of any videotaping or filming pursuant to Chapter 6 (§ 19.2-61 et
    seq.) of Title 19.2.”

    • wondering

      is general presence considered a ‘criminal investigation’ walking around a festival filming is not a criminal investigation in my opinion. they did not have dirt; they where there looking for dirt.

  • hmmmnow

    THE VA ABC is a bunch of wanna be swat guys who have nothing better to do than abuse their power against harmless tax payers with different moral compasses than their own using underhanded gustapo tactics.
    On a lighter note, thanks for the tata shot (and larger version) though! C-Ville you better hope a storm trooper isn’t reading this and just called the NSA for your internet history and call logs!
    Quick poll:
    Her Breasts
    a. fake
    b. real and amazing

    • RandomThoughts

      B. Real like they were meant to be 🙂

    • Malarky71

      Only fake round ones stay in the “capsule” shape like this when laying down, so yeah. Fake. Sorry to burst your bubble.

      • hmmmnow

        not to mention chicks with $10k worth of work on their chests usually like to show it off!

  • Liz Wood

    Cudos to Nelson County’s Capt. Robertson, Sheriff Brooks and the commonwealth’s attorney for having such a realistic approach to the crowd at Lockn. If smoking pot and a little nude sunbathing are the worst things anyone has to worry about, then life is good! I’d like to see the reaction if Layman had applied these same tactics to the disgusting array of completely polluted party-goers that recently trashed Foxfield! Talk about underage drinking! And all of those people drove home! I’m sure that if anyone had a problem with that young lady sunbathing topless, they would have either removed themselves from the scene or at the most asked her to put her top on. A large majority of the folks at Lock’n did their partying and stayed there! They weren’t on the roads. They weren’t “rioting, raping and murdering” anyone. For God’s sake they were smoking dope, they last thing on their minds was causing trouble. They were there to enjoy great music and great people at one of the most beautiful places on earth. Usually, you will find that at an event such as this if someone want to start trouble, they are quickly moved out of the way and dealt with by the people there wanting to have a good time. It’s also completely wrong for anyone to characterize the fans of a particular band ie. Widespread Panic,bringing drug use with them. Shows nothing but ignorance on their part.

  • GabbaGabbHeyGabbaWeese

    Titties and Beer!!!

  • Jordan Hedgepeth

    VABC needs to take a look at the seal of VA and the VA state flag. It appears to me, the lady with the exposed breast beats the tyrant every time. Here’s to exposed breasts and fewer tyrants……

  • Jordan Hedgepeth

    VABC needs to take a look at the seal of VA and the VA state flag. It appears to me, the lady with the exposed breast beats the tyrant every time. Here’s to exposed breasts and fewer tyrants……

  • Gary

    He should have used a better camera. There were now blind spots like that. And I was wondering where the new lights came from…they were put in after he said something.
    If he wants some night photo’s from different areas…let me know!

  • Bill Brennan
    • Bill Brennan

      These ABC guys are out of control.

Comment Policy