State Releases Report on Student’s Bloody Arrest

     CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CN) – A state review of the bloody arrest of a black University of Virginia student by Alcoholic Beverage Control officers includes many narratives, but few conclusions about the incident.
     The student, Martese Johnson, was arrested outside the Trinity Irish Pub in Charlottesville, on St. Patrick’s Day 2014.
     The arrest was caught on a bystander’s video and appeared to show two white officers manhandling a prone Johnson, whose head was covered with blood.
     Johnson, who was taken to a local hospital following his arrest, received 10 stitches to close the wound.
     The video soon was cited — along with the police shooting of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Mo., and the police choke-hold death of Eric Garner in New York — as yet another example of law enforcement officers using undue force on a black man.
     The state’s investigation into the incident was released September 23, at the urging of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
     The page report does resolve how the 20 year old was injured after he was denied entry into the pub. Instead, it details markedly conflicting accounts offered by more than two dozen witnesses.
     Some of those who witnessed the arrest said officers grabbed Johnson and slammed him into the ground. Others claim he simply tripped and fell.
     Some witnesses placed Johnson him in boisterous attendance at a party prior to his arrest, where he polished off a bottle of Jack Daniels then bought a round of rum and cokes for friends, according to police reports.
     Witnesses also gave varying accounts of Johnson’s resistance. Some corroborated officers’ testimony that he actively resisted arrest while others alleged Johnson had merely shrugged the agent off and that the force used against him was excessive.
     One witness reported Johnson pleading, “help me please, help me please; I have no idea how it got to this point,” while officers instructed him to relax.
     Johnson himself maintains he was reaching for his wallet to show the officers a valid ID, when he was suddenly grabbed and slammed headfirst into the pavement, lacerating his forehead on impact.
     At the time of the incident, officers with the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control were carrying out an operation targeting underage drinking during St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
     In total, 11 people were charged over the course of the three-day operation.
     Johnson was charged with being drunk in public and obstruction of justice, but those charges were later dismissed.
     Authorities administered a breathalyzer test which showed Johnson’s blood alcohol level at .002, though the reading may have been inaccurate due to improper storage and calibration of the machine, authorities say.
     Johnson admitted to drinking two beers at home earlier that evening according to reports.
     Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Warren D. Chapman assigned criminal investigation of the arrest to the state police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the day after the incident.
     All three agents were suspended pending investigation, but allowed to return to work August 10 after a separate departmental investigation found the officers’ use of force justified and fully compliant with bureau procedure.
     The 119-page report released last Tuesday supported the department’s reinstatement of the officers, but did recommend the department increase staffing, purchase
     body cameras for on-duty officers, and update training procedures.
     Governor Terry McAuliffe said in a press release that accompanied the release of the report that he will “continue to evaluate the proposals submitted by the expert review panel … to ensure that we are doing everything we can to keep Virginians safe with the utmost professionalism and respect.”
     Johnson’s attorney, Daniel Watkins told Courthouse News he applauds the governors decisions to release the report, but “I don’t really know that the report provides any definitive answers to the question of what is the proper measure of force that is appropriate when someone is believed to have committed a regulatory, ticketable offense.”
     “Our position has always been that officers were not justified in taking Mr. Johnson to the ground the way they did,” Watkins said.
     “In a case like this, the possibility of a civil claim is always on the table,” the attorney continued. “At this point Mr. Johnson has not definitively chosen a course of action but he is still exploring what his options are.”

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