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UVA Student Who Was Violently Assaulted by Alcohol Beverage Control Agents Files $3M Lawsuit


A University of Virginia student who was assaulted by law enforcement officers has filed a $3 million lawsuit, reports The Guardian. Martese Johnson was violently slammed to the ground by officers from Virginia’s Alcohol Beverage Control state agency. The assault, which was captured on video and subsequently went viral, left Johnson bloody and with permanent scars on his face. Johnson described the traumatic experience in detail in a Vanity Fair article.

“I sustained three gashes on my head (one requiring 10 stitches to close), facial swelling, a busted lip, and cuts and bruises on my body. The scars on my face and head will likely remain for the rest of my life,” Johnson wrote. “The officers’ actions may not have been premeditated that night, but I do believe they were calculated. Thousands of students have been arrested for similar charges throughout the years, 1,670 in Virginia by ABC officers just last year, but it’s hard to imagine that most of them experienced the physical violence I endured in that brief period.”

The ABC agents arrested Johnson for allegedly using a fake ID, which turned out to be incorrect. The agents later shackled Johnson and charged him with public intoxication, obstruction of justice and swearing. All the charges were later dropped.

Johnson’s lawsuit, filed on Tuesday, charges the officers with unlawful detention and excessive force. According to The Guardian, Johnson decided to sue because none of the officers were punished and the state has not released information about their internal report on the incident. Daniel Watkins, a lawyer representing Johnson, told The Guardian the lawsuit was also designed to scrutinize police interactions with the public.

“The positive takeaway from this lawsuit is that this issue is being discussed and the interaction between police and citizens being questioned,” Watkins said. “I know that Martese sees himself as an agent of change. But he has filed this lawsuit in his own name and you saw what happened to him that night. The question at the center of this is: was this an appropriate level of force used?”

Johnson’s lawsuit also names Shawn P. Walker, director of the ABC state agency, and agents Jared Miller, Thomas Custer and John Cielakie as defendants.

This is the second controversial incident involving Agent Cielakie. Two years ago University of Virginia student Elizabeth Daly was involved with a violent encounter with ABC agents who mistook a container of sparkling water for beer. Daly said the agents, who were in plainclothes and didn’t show their badges, swarmed her vehicle. Cielakie also tried to break her windshield with his flashlight. The ABC ended up paying Daly a $212,500 settlement.

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