ABC, UVA in national spotlight again after Martese Johnson arrest

The arrest of Martese Johnson. Photo: Bryan Beaubrun/Cavalier Daily The arrest of Martese Johnson. Photo: Bryan Beaubrun/Cavalier Daily

The image of bloodied third-year University of Virginia student Martese Johnson on the ground being arrested by a uniformed ABC agent has put UVA—and the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control—in the national spotlight again, with Governor Terry McAuliffe calling for an independent investigation on the arrest and the use of force.

Reaction to the early March 18 photo of Johnson handcuffed and bleeding was swift—and angry. Hundreds of people came out to a student-organized demonstration that evening at the amphitheater, including UVA President Teresa Sullivan, who put out a statement in which she said she was concerned and had contacted McAuliffe, and Rector George Martin, who told media the brutality was “unconscionable.” Protests later spilled over into surrounding streets, where demonstrators blocked Chancellor Street and University Avenue before marching to the Charlottesville Police station on Market Street, according to media reports.

Mason Pickett was on the Corner March 19 with signs. Staff photo
Mason Pickett was on the Corner March 19 with signs. Staff photo

 

Johnson, who had just been reelected to the Honor Committee and serves on the Black Student Alliance executive board, had been turned away from Trinity Irish Pub around 12:45am March 18, according to a statement from the ABC. His friend, Bryan Beaubrun, told the Daily Progress that an ABC officer grabbed Johnson by the arm and pulled him away to speak to other officers. After about a minute, when Johnson asked the officer to let go of him arm and tried to pull away, said Beaubrun, he was grabbed from behind and the two officers wrestled him to the sidewalk, where his head hit the ground and later required 10 stitches.

Beaubrun, who recorded part of the arrest on his phone, told the Progress, “He didn’t need to be tackled. He wasn’t being aggressive at all.”

Charlottesville Fire Marshall Jay Davis was on the Corner to make sure the St. Patrick’s Day crowds didn’t exceed occupancy levels in bars. He declined to comment on the events leading to the arrest because of the investigation, but said, “I was aware there was going to be need for EMS so I was coordinating with the fire department and [Charlottesville Area Rescue Squad].

Johnson had 10 stitches before being taken to Charlottesville Albemarle Regional Jail, where he was charged with obstruction of justice, a Class 1 misdemeanor, and public intoxication or swearing, a Class 4 misdemeanor, according to court records. Johnson, an Italian and media studies major from Chicago, will be 21 in three months. What he was not charged with: underage drinking or fraud for use of a fake ID.

In a video Beaubrun shot of the arrest, Johnson can be heard saying, “I go to UVA.” And then, “you f***ing racists.”

Court documents describe Johnson as “very agitated and belligerent, but [with] no criminal history” and said he could be released “when sober.” He was released on $1,500 bond at 6:02am.

ABC Special Agent J. Miller was the arresting officer, and the agency did not respond to a request for Miller’s first name and the names of the two ABC agents with him. The special agents will be restricted to administrative duties while the investigation is being conducted, according to an ABC release.

Rutherford Institute founder John Whitehead asked why Johnson was grabbed by the arm in the first place. “The big problem here is how this kid was approached,” he said. “When you grab somebody by the arm you’re going to get a reaction.”

Whitehead also questioned, “Why the hell was the ABC patrolling the Corner? Why aren’t Charlottesville Police doing that? Why were they sneaking around Harris Teeter watching Elizabeth Daly?”

Daly was the UVA student arrested two years ago when ABC agents suspected the case of sparkling water she was carrying was beer, and surrounded her car in the grocery parking lot. She and her two sorority sisters panicked and fled a few blocks until a call to 911 confirmed that the street clothes-wearing figures pounding on the car window with a flashlight and pulling a gun were indeed ABC agents. Daly was charged with three felonies for assaulting a law enforcement officer and eluding police, charges that were later dropped. She sued the ABC for $40 million, and the case was settled for $212,500.

The ABC didn’t learn from the Daly case, said Whitehead, which should have been “a red light” to stop what they were doing. The incident drew national attention, and the General Assembly considered but did not pass measures to put the ABC under the umbrella of the Virginia State Police. The agency did institute 15 changes in its policy on handling possible underage drinkers, including the presence of a uniformed agent.

Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Chapman, who dropped the charges against Daly, declined to comment about how the charges against Johnson are proceeding. “That could change later today,” he said.

 

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