VA Alcoholic Beverage Control Police Have History of Investigations Involving UVA Student Arrests

March 19, 2015 Updated: March 19, 2015

The high-profile arrest of University of Virginia student Martese Johnson that left him with a bloody head has put the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) officers in the spotlight again. While the 20-year-old student was being arrested outside of a popular local hangout, the front of his head hit the pavement, requiring 10 stitches.

“Just before handcuffing him, police took Martese to the ground, striking his head on the pavement and causing him to bleed profusely from the gash on his head,” said Johnson’s attorney, Daniel P. Watkins, in a statement.

The March 17 incident prompted Governor Terry McAuliffe to launch a state police investigation over the use of force. The agents involved in the incident have been placed on administrative duties during the investigation.

ABC special agents’  jobs are to help monitor licensed drinking establishments. According to the agency, they approached Johnson after he was refused entry to the popular hangout “the Corner” and handcuffed him. He was later arrested and charged with public intoxication and obstruction of justice by local police.

Just before handcuffing him, police took Martese to the ground, striking his head on the pavement and causing him to bleed.
— Daniel P. Watkins

The new investigation comes less than nine months after a $212,500 settlement in the arrest of another UVA student, Elizabeth Daly. Daly had sought $40 million after ABC officers drew a gun on her and arrested her in 2013 after she bought sparkling water and cookie dough for a sorority fundraiser.

That case was also investigated by the state police, who said on Thursday that it was an administrative review to find any possible violations of policy. Recommendations for policy and procedural changes in light of the incident were made at the time, though it’s not clear if they were implemented.

Video of Johnson’s arrest and a photo of his bloody face as he lay on the ground being handcuffed were both taken by UVA student Bryan Beaubrun. The video and the photo, which were published by campus newspaper The Cavalier Daily, were plastered over Twitter and national media on Thursday after a campus protest of the arrest that drew almost 1,000 students Wednesday night.

Though the moment when Johnson’s head hit the pavement wasn’t captured on video, he can be clearly heard calling the officers “racist” as he lays on the ground with his hands behind his back. He can be seen twisting his wrist to prevent it from being cuffed, but isn’t otherwise resisting.

“How’d this happen? How’d this happen?” he yelled out.

Bryan Beaubrun, Martese Johnson is held down by an officer Wednesday, March 18, 2015, in Charlottesville, Va. Court records show that Johnson was charged with obstruction of justice without force and public swearing or intoxication. The Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is calling for an investigation into the arrest of the student. (AP Photo/Bryan Beaubrun with Epoch Times effects added to face)
Bryan Beaubrun, Martese Johnson is held down by an officer Wednesday, March 18, 2015, in Charlottesville, Va. (AP Photo/Bryan Beaubrun with Epoch Times)

Protesting over the incident continued on Thursday as student demonstrators marched through campus buildings chanting now-popular refrains of “no justice, no peace” and “black lives matter.”

Johnson, a black third-year student double majoring in Italian and Media Studies with no criminal history, is a known campus leader.

UVA’s vice president for diversity and equity, Marcus L. Martin, M.D. and the dean of African-American Affairs, Maurice Apprey, Ph.D., issued a joint statement that they were “appalled” by injuries that Johnson sustained.

“In the many years of our medical, professional, and leadership roles at the University, we view the nature of this assault as highly unusual and appalling based on the information we have received,” they stated.

State Delegate David Toscano, who had called for reforms of ABC agent practices after the 2013 Daly incident, spoke out again on Thursday over Johnson’s arrest. He described it as “continued overreaction by ABC law enforcement personnel” and demanded answers.

“It is clear, based on the 2013 incident involving ABC actions against a student…as well as from the recent events, that ABC policies, protocols, and training are inappropriate for dealing with these kinds of cases,” said Toscano in a statement.

ABC was also in the news last year around the same time as the Elizabeth Daly settlement for internal misconduct of one of its officers. In July 2014, ABC Officer Steven Hammond Jr. was found guilty of embezzling $239,000 meant for educational programs to combat underage drinking.