Panel: Virginia alcohol agency should retain arrest powers
Sep. 22, 2015
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A task force appointed by Virginia's governor after a college student's bloody arrest declined Tuesday to recommend stripping the state's liquor agency of its police powers, and a state police investigation concluded that agents were not unduly aggressive when they detained him.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe appointed the 20-member task force after University of Virginia student Martese Johnson was arrested in March by state Alcoholic Beverage Control agents. Johnson, then 20, needed 15 stitches to close a gash in his head.
Video and photos of Johnson being pinned to the sidewalk by ABC agents were widely distributed on social media. Johnson, who is black, could be heard on the video calling the officers racist. Charges against him were dropped, and the Charlottesville prosecutor determined after an investigation that the agents did nothing wrong. Three agents who were assigned to desk duty have since resumed their normal law enforcement activities.
The major issue considered by McAuliffe's task force was whether ABC should be stripped of its arrest powers, leaving its enforcement of underage drinking laws to state or local police. The panel rejected that idea, saying in its report that "the public safety of Virginia is best served by Virginia ABC."
However, the panel recommended that the agency emphasize regulatory activities, such as licensing compliance, over law enforcement. It also recommended improvements in training, including eight hours of instruction annually in cultural diversity, effective interaction with youth and "response to active resistance."
A separate investigation by the local prosecutor found that some witnesses reported that Johnson fell while resisting agents' efforts to question him outside a bar, while others said the agents threw the student to the ground.
McAuliffe also ordered a state police investigation of the incident. That report, also released Tuesday, concluded that agents "only used physical force to detain and arrest Johnson" and did not employ any of the more aggressive tactics that agents are allowed to use when a person resists. Johnson's injury occurred "when the agents and Johnson went to the ground" and the student's head hit the sidewalk, the report says.
The governor said in a statement that "the facts presented in this thorough report support the Virginia ABC's decision to reinstate these agents."
The report by his task force, meanwhile, recommended that the agency's roughly 130 law enforcement officers wear body cameras, and that ABC work to improve collaboration with colleges and universities.
It suggested that ABC file quarterly reports with the state's public safety secretary on how it is implementing the recommendations.
McAuliffe praised the work of the task force and said he looked forward to reviewing its recommendations.
Johnson's arrest was the second ABC incident to provoke outrage in Charlottesville. Two years ago, several agents who mistook a carton of sparkling water for beer swarmed a vehicle driven by University of Virginia student Elizabeth Daly. One agent brandished a gun and another tried to break her windshield with a flashlight. Daly fled in a panic, grazing two agents with her SUV. Charges against her were dropped, and she settled a lawsuit against the ABC for $212,500.