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Panel considers whether ABC should have the power to arrest underage students

Posted at 10:07 PM, May 04, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-05 06:33:01-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- A group of lawmakers, law enforcement officials, and alcohol experts appointed by the Governor met for the first time Monday to take a long, hard look at Virginia’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control after the controversial arrests of two students at the state’s flagship university.

The panel will review ABC’s law enforcement division and consider whether ABC agents should continue to have the power to arrest underage students for alcohol violations.

“Our interactions with ABC seem to be extreme,” panel member and University of Virginia Student Council President Abraham Axler said.

Axler spoke on behalf of the more than 20,000 students at UVA and said his peers remain “alarmed” by the role of ABC agents in Charlottesville.

“I think the perception among UVA students is they were acting way outside of how they should be acting as officers of the law,” Axler said.

Twice over the past two years, ABC agents have been investigated for their treatment of UVA students.

In 2013, ABC agents drew guns and swarmed a 20-year-old student's car after ABC agents mistook water for beer.

On St. Patrick’s Day this year, UVA student Martese Johnson ended up with blood streaming down his face during a controversial arrest.

“We’re obviously very troubled,” Brian Moran, Virginia’s Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, said.

Moran said the panel will consider whether ABC agents should even have the power to make those types of arrests.

“Whether we want to change that further will be a recommendation for the governor, and we’re going to investigate that,” Moran said.

In the meantime, Moran said agents will receive additional training specific to cultural diversity and interaction with young adults.

But, the mayor of Harrisonburg, who is also on the panel, said that training will not mean much, unless there is a change in office culture.

“I do need to know what made them culturally think, I must use this much aggression in this instance? That has to be answered. If that’s not answered you can train them for hours and hours and hours and you’ll still get the same result,” Mayor Christopher Jones, said.

Those answers may lie inside an investigation recently completed by the Virginia State Police about the Johnson arrest.

Charlottesville’s Commonwealth’s Attorney is currently reviewing the report and Moran said the panel will eventually see it.

“At the appropriate time, I would ask for that investigation so it would inform us and help us improve enforcement at ABC,” Moran said.

Moran added that he hopes ABC will adopt the use of body cameras.

He said they could have been very beneficial in the Johnson case.