A University of Virginia student who was brutalized by state Alcohol Beverage Control officers says he is filing a $5 million civil suit. Martese Johnson was arrested by ABC officers who suspected him of using a fake ID to purchase alcohol. But what should have been a minor charge resulted in a violent altercation that left Johnson bleeding from the face and requiring stitches. During the incident, Johnson screamed that he was a UVA student in the hope that would protect him from being shot dead.
ABC officers later handcuffed Johnson and also shackled his feet. Charges against him were dropped when it was revealed that his ID was genuine. An ABC investigation cleared the officers and returned them to duty.
“After thoroughly reviewing the incident and the report, Virginia ABC concluded that the agents did not violate agency policy and returned these special agents to active duty today,” said the ABC in a news release.
The incident was also investigated by state police under the orders of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. However, the report has yet to be released.
Johnson told The Guardian the incident left him wary of police.
“I’m uncomfortable with the idea of these officers patrolling the area where I will have to live for another year. And if a person is slammed into the ground and has to get stitches – that an innocent person is treated in this way – there should be some repercussions or some punishment and changes to ensure it does not happen in the future,” he said.
Johnson, who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, has a mixed view of police officers.
“He saw frequent, casual police mistreatment of black men and youths on the streets, he said, but had also been saved from dangerous mobs by police officers there,” reported The Guardian.
Like many young people involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, police violence has motivated Johnson to become active in politics.
“He said he had been active in the causes of justice and racial equality since he was a child, but he was now extremely passionate about it, especially amid the protests and debate about race sweeping the country since the fatal shooting of a black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, a year ago,” according to The Guardian.
Johnson also spent part of the summer interning with the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C.-based liberal think tank.
The Johnson incident, which received national media attention, is not the first time ABC agents have been involved in a violent altercation. In 2013, three UVA students were accosted by armed ABC officers, who suspected them of buying beer while they were underage. It turned out to be sparkling water. UVA student Elizabeth Daly was arrested and spent the night in jail. She later sued in federal court and eventually settled for $212,500.
The actions of the ABC have attracted the attention of Virginia legislators. State Sen. Marcus Simon has proposed a bill that would strip the ABC of much of its powers.
“He (Simon) intends to introduce a bill to the legislature later this year proposing to take away the law enforcement powers of the state Alcohol Beverage Control agency in relation to policing consumers, leaving that job to the state police, while restricting the agents’ role to regulating the sale of alcohol in licensed premises,” said The Guardian. “Such attempts have been made unsuccessfully before.”