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State police launch investigations into UVa. student’s arrest by ABC agents

Posted at 3:53 PM, Mar 19, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-19 19:34:58-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia State Police have launched two investigations into the arrest of University of Virginia student Martese Johnson by Alcoholic Beverage Control special agents.

Johnson was bloodied in a St. Patrick’s Day incident outside Trinity Irish Pub in Charlottesville, according to a statement issued by the Black Student Alliance,  a non-university supervised student group. Johnson, who chairs the group’s Leadership Development Committee, was “brutalized” by Virginia ABC officers outside the bar early Wednesday morning, according to the statement.

University president Teresa Sullivan initially reported the incident to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s office. McAuliffe then initiated an independent, state-run investigation into the circumstances surrounding the St. Patrick’s Day incident.

State police said in a news release Thursday afternoon that following that request, an administrative review into Johnson's arrest is underway. State police have also launched a criminal investigation at the request of the Charlottesville commonwealth’s attorney.

"An administrative review is being conducted by the Virginia State Police Professional Standards Unit to determine if the actions of the Virginia ABC agents during the course of the arrest of Martese Johnson were consistent and in compliance with their agency’s policy," Colonel W. Steven Flaherty, Virginia State Police Superintendent, said in a statement. "The criminal investigation is being conducted by the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Appomattox Field Office in coordination with the City of Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney."

Flaherty said that both elements of this investigation "will take time to conduct and complete.”

“We owe it to both Mr. Johnson and the Virginia ABC to be painstakingly thorough in determining the facts of the situation through interviews, evidence collection and analysis, and investigative procedure," Flaherty said. "We appreciate the public’s patience as we move through the investigative process in the coming weeks.”

State police also asked anyone with information about the incident to contact them by email at vfc@vsp.virginia.gov or phone at 877-482-8477.

Black UVA student bloodied during arrest; governor wants investigation

Johnson is lying facedown on the pavement, blood flowing from his forehead. He was injured when Virginia alcohol control agents took him to the ground, trying to arrest him for public intoxication and obstruction of justice.

Hey! His head is bleeding! Yo, his head is bleeding!" a bystander screams.

As he's pinned, video captures him yelling: "I go to UVA! ... You f*****g racists! What the f**k? How did this happen?"

An agent can be heard telling the student to stop fighting.

The video does not show the moments leading up to the arrest early Wednesday. But many say it's the latest example of excessive force by officers against a black man.

The arrest warrant for Johnson describes the student as "agitated and belligerent."

Denied entry at a bar

The incident started when Johnson, 20, was turned away from a bar during St. Patrick's Day celebrations.

Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control agents approached him and decided to "further detain the individual based on their observations and further questioning," the agency said.

"In the course of an arrest being made, the arrested individual sustained injuries."

Johnson's attorney gave a more detailed account:

"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," attorney Daniel Watkins said. He said Johnson's head wound required 10 stitches.

Student Jennifer Goldman didn't see what started the incident, but she and her boyfriend were passing as officers held Johnson down, she said, adding that she recognized Johnson from last year's orientation as a "nice and funny" guy.

"He was definitely upset. I don't know how belligerent he was because I didn't see the arrest or takedown, but he was definitely upset," she said.

As for the officers, she said, she didn't see them do anything violent, "but they were definitely restraining him and they weren't really doing much to take care of his head, but they were just holding him down."

Students rally for Johnson

Hundreds of University of Virginia students of different races protested Wednesday night.

"For his face to literally be bashed in by concrete -- there's no words to describe that," a protester told CNN affiliate WTVR.

Johnson himself took the microphone, calling for peace.

"Regardless of your personal opinions and the way you feel about subjects ... please respect everyone here," he said. "We are one community. We deserve to respect each other, especially in times like this."

Governor demands investigation

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has called for an independent investigation by Virginia State Police to see whether the alcohol control agents used excessive force.

UVa. President Teresa Sullivan said she was disturbed by images of the arrest and contacted the governor's office to ask for the investigation.

"I felt it in my stomach," she told WTVR. "Just seeing the blood run down that young man's face, I wanted to know what happened."

The university's Black Student Alliance issued a statement denouncing the incident.

"Today, we are reminded of the gruesome reality that we are not immune to injustice; as University students, we are not impervious to the brutality that has reeled on news cycles around the country," the group said Wednesday.

"We have marched and shouted that we are Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, but the proximity of this morning's brutality to a member of our community has deepened that wound."

The special agents involved in the arrest will be restricted to administrative duties, pending the results of the investigation, the Virginia ABC said.

Student leader 'devastated'

Johnson is a third-year student double-majoring in Italian and media studies. He has no criminal record, according to his attorney, and holds a variety of leadership positions on campus.

"As evidenced by both his academic and extracurricular achievements, Martese is a smart young man with a bright future," Watkins said. "He is absolutely devastated by yesterday's events. Currently, we are preparing to investigate and defend this matter vigorously."

In the meantime, UVA's president urged anyone who witnessed the arrest to contact authorities.

"We have not yet clarified all of the details surrounding this event," Sullivan said, "but we are seeking to do so as quickly as possible."