Charlottesville leaders speak up on Martese Johnson arrest

Photos by Cramer Photo, Bryan Beaubrun, Rammelkamp Foto Photos by Cramer Photo, Bryan Beaubrun, Rammelkamp Foto

Several local leaders have added their voices to the unfolding controversy over the arrest of third-year UVA student Martese Johnson by ABC officers early Wednesday morning. Johnson, who was photographed bleeding from the head as officers cuffed him on the ground outside a Corner bar, was charged with obstruction of justice and public intoxication or swearing and later released. The incident sparked angry protests in Charlottesville and has garnered nationwide attention.

Today, as the city Commonwealth’s attorney directed state police to conduct a criminal investigation of the ABC officers’ actions, local officials had their say. Here’s a roundup of their statements, which were sent to media via e-mail.

Charlottesville Mayor Satyendra Singh Huja:

“I share the concerns of the Charlottesville community regarding the actions of Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control agents on the Corner early Wednesday morning. I am grateful to the Governor for quickly ordering a state police investigation and remind anyone who might have information about the events that took place to contact Virginia State Police at 1-877-482-8477. The City of Charlottesville and our Police Department are committed to building a community of mutual respect and we will continue to work with our citizens to build connections and foster strong relationships. I urge our residents, both on Grounds and off, to be patient as we await the outcome of the VSP investigation.”

Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy J. Longo:

“While Charlottesville Police officers were not present when Mr. Johnson was arrested by Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) agents and incurred injury, those unfortunate events have the potential to be detrimental to our department’s relationship with the citizens we serve, not only within the University community, but throughout our city.

Over the past 24 hours, I have spoken with student leaders regarding my personal commitment and the commitment of the Charlottesville Police Department to continue to work diligently to preserve the positive relationships we have worked hard to build. We plan to meet with students and other law enforcement representatives to continue this conversation, possibly as early as Friday, March 20, 2015.

As part of this commitment, we will review a previously entered into memorandum of agreement by and between the Charlottesville Police Department and the UVA/Student Body section of the NAACP.

This agreement includes sharing daily crime reports, frequent communication on important community issues and events, training opportunities, and a collaborative commitment to recruit and retain a more diverse police force.

CPD has been working with the Department of Justice, Community Relations Service throughout the fall and winter to convene a facilitated discussion about important issues that impact police and citizen interactions. Within the next several weeks, we will bring together a cross section of our community to take part in that discussion and help identify key issues that can be incorporated into a series of workshops aimed at furthering our collective desire to make our community a better place.

The CPD will work with the Virginia State Police and the Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office to ensure a complete and thorough examination of the events which led to Mr. Johnson’s arrest. Meanwhile, I will continue to work with students, university officials, community leaders, and appropriate appointed and elected officials to work through these unfortunate events in a safe, peaceful, respectful, and productive way.”

Delegate David Toscano:

“I am very concerned about the events that occurred at the UVa Corner in the early morning hours of March 17, 2015. The photos are very disturbing, as are the videos that I have viewed. At this point, it is unclear why the ABC agents took any action against this young man. I fully support the independent investigation that has been initiated by the Governor and the Secretary of Public Safety. The Governor’s office has assured me that this will be conducted and concluded expeditiously.

All of the information I have to date suggests that these were actions taken by ABC agents and NOT by the Charlottesville Police Department or UVa Police Department. So far as I know, Charlottesville and Albemarle officers arrived at the scene AFTER the ABC agents made the arrest and were engaged in helping calm the crowd. I know how much attention the leadership of our Charlottesville, Albemarle, and UVa police departments pay to the civil rights of our citizens. The continued overreaction by ABC law enforcement personnel in these cases is shocking.

It is clear, based on the 2013 incident involving ABC actions against a student at the local Harris Teeter as well as from the recent events, that ABC policies, protocols, and training are inappropriate for dealing with these kinds of cases, and state and local leadership must take all efforts to enact reforms to protect the civil rights of our citizens as they enforce the laws of the Commonwealth.

The young man himself has called for civility and calming and I agree. But we must remain vigilant in gathering the facts and readdressing the legitimate concerns raised by this incident.”