CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- A press conference Thursday was held by the law firm representing Martese Johnson, a third-year University of Virginia student who was arrested in the early morning after St. Patrick’s Day. Johnson has been charged with a misdemeanor charge of Obstruction of Justice without force and Public Intoxication or Profane Swearing.
Approximately 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Martese was standing on the sidewalk near Trinity Irish pub in Charlottesville when an employee approached him and asked him for identification, said Daniel Watkins, the William Mullens attorney representing Martese.
Martese presented a valid Illinois state identification card issued in 2011, explained Watkins. When Martese was quizzed on the ZIP code he recited the current ZIP code at his mother’s Chicago city address, which is different from the Chicago city ZIP code on the identification card that was printed almost four years ago.
“At no time throughout the encounter did Martese present, as has been reported by some in the media, a fake ID,” said Watkins. “Nevertheless, Virginia ABC officers who were present on the scene questioned my client about being in possession of false identification.”
“The conversation resulted in my client being thrown to the ground, his head hitting the pavement, the officer’s knees pressed into his back, his face and skull bleeding and needing surgery,” Watkins added. “All this over two alleged offenses, one a misdemeanor charge of Obstruction of Justice without force and two, Profane Swearing and/or Public Intoxication -- which upon conviction requires only the payment of a fine.”
Much of the student community rallied around Martese, a student raised on the southside of Chicago by a single mother, who is at the university on a full scholarship based on financial need.
“He has worked hard to become a respected leader on campus and to make a difference in this community,” said Watkins.
Martese’s roomate Josh Kinlaw called the situation eye-opening. "It's a real issue happening a lot,” he said, “it can happen to anyone, anywhere.”
“I was saddened to hear about this,” Kinlaw said, and added that he was first grief-stricken, then angry, then frightened.
Martese, who has no past criminal charges, will fight the current charges and fight “for his good name.” The Virginia State Police have opened an investigation into the incident, at the request of Gov. McAuliffe who was contacted by university Pres. Teresa Sullivan.
In a “very productive” conversation, Sullivan expressed remorse and told Martese that he has her support, said Watkins.
Martese was joined at the press conference by his mother and older brother Michael.
“Walking on the grounds with him this afternoon we were amazed as people approached Martese numerous times and offered pats on the back and well wishes,” said Watkins.
"It opens a lot of people eyes," one student said, "because he is such a prominent figure here -- he does so much for the university."
Marches and protests continued Thursday, with the arrest dominating conversation on campus. A dialogue is planned for students Friday afternoon, with Charlottesville Police and Virginia ABC representatives present to answer questions, at 1 p.m. at the Newcomb Theater.
Very much present seems to be the “community of trust” that Martese referenced in a statement read by his lawyer.
“As the officers held me down one thought raced through my mind: how could this happen. My head bloody but unbowed, I still believe in our community. I know this community will support me during this time. I trust that the scars on my face and head will one day heal, but the trauma from what the ABC officers did yesterday will stay with me forever. I believe we have a community are better than this. We cannot allow the actions of a few officers to ruin the community of trust we have worked so hard to build.”