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UVa student Martese Johnson bloodied during arrest by ABC agents

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Martese Johnson

The Black Student Alliance alleged that third-year student Martese Johnson was assaulted by Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control agents outside of Trinity Irish Pub in Charlottesville early Wednesday morning.

Members of the University of Virginia Black Student Alliance have posted a picture of bloodied man they say is a member of the UVa Honor Committee and the Alliance as he was arrested by Virginia ABC agents outside of a pub on the Corner.

Charlottesville General District Court records show that Martese Johnson, 20, the man whose bloody face Alliance members say is seen in the photo, was charged at 4:12 a.m. Wednesday with misdemeanor obstruction of justice without force and public swearing/intoxication. He was released on a $1,500 unsecured bond at about 6:30 a.m. A court hearing is set for March 26. 

The court records do not go into detail about the location of the arrest. University police said they were called to the scene to assist ABC agents, but he was in custody when they arrived. Charlottesville police were also called to assist. 

An ambulance was called to 1511 University Ave. at 12:51 a.m. and arrived at the hospital at 1:14 a.m.

Johnson's roommate said Johnson is asking for privacy at this time. His fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, also declined to comment.

Uniformed ABC agents approached Johnson after he was refused entry to Trinity. 

"A determination was made by the agents to further detain the individual based on their observations and further questioning," according to an ABC news release. He was injured during the arrest and brought to the hospital. 

A post from "Concerned Black Students," posted on the Alliance's Facebook page, said that Johnson required 10 stitches in his head after his arrest. 

“Outside of the doors of Trinity Irish Pub, a mass of university students bore witness to the officer’s animalistic, insensitive and brute handling of Martese,” the Facebook post states. “He was left with his blood splattered on the pavement of University Avenue.”

The Alliance post states that Johnson was denied entry to a bar when he was arrested.

“He found himself suddenly flung to the ground. The brutish force used resulted in his head and bodily injuries,” the post states. “His treatment was unprovoked as he did not resist questioning or arrest. In confusion, with blood painting his face and creating a pool on the bricks of the corner, he yelled out for mercy.”

The Alliance post states that students were pushed away from the arrest scene “and some were even handcuffed and threatened with possible arrest if they did not leave the scene.”

Pub staff member Brendan O’Toole said he saw the incident happen Tuesday night.

After staff turned Johnson away after determining he was underage, at least two ABC officers confronted him, O'Toole said. One of the officers grabbed Johnson’s arm after he pulled out a cell phone. A second officer then tackled Johnson to the ground, he said.

“[The Officers] instigated the whole thing,” O’Toole said.

Richmond-based attorney Daniel Watkins of Williams Mullen has been hired to represent Johnson. 

Johnson was recently re-elected to his post on the UVa Honor Committee where he serves as vice chairman for community relations. He also serves as the leadership development chairman on the Alliance executive committee and vice president of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity at UVa.

“We demand there be a swift and thorough investigation on the state, local and university levels," the Facebook post said. "We have seen what happens at the university when we allow problems we have long known exist to be handled quietly, so we will not be quiet.”

The agents involved were placed on administrative duties during the investigation, according to the ABC news release. 

In a letter to the university community, UVa President Teresa A. Sullivan said she has not been able to confirm the details of the incident yet, but is working to do so. She said she has met with the city and university police chiefs and asked the governor to investigate. 

Sullivan urged eyewitnesses to call the state police with information. 

"The safety and security of our students will always be my primary concern, and every member of our community should feel safe from the threat of bodily harm and other forms of violence," she said in the letter. "Today, as U.Va students, faculty, and staff who share a set of deeply held values, we stand unified in our commitment to seeking the truth about this incident. And we stand united in our belief that equal treatment and equal justice are among our fundamental rights under the law."

Governor Terry McAuliffe has called for the Secretary of Public Safety to initiate an independent state police investigation into the use of force during the incident. State police confirmed they will be conducting an administrative investigation. 

State Attorney General Mark R. Herring commended McAuliffe for his decision. 

"In these situations it's critical that we get all of the facts about exactly what happened as quickly as possible," Herring said in a news release.

“It was ABC officers who made the arrest and the governor is their boss,” said Charlottesville councilor Kristin Szakos. “I think it’s appropriate he’s asked for an investigation to see how it came to that.”  

In another letter to the community, Marcus L. Martin, Vice President for Diversity and Equity, and Maurice Apprey, the dean of the Office of African-American Affairs at UVa, said they're "outraged by the brutality."

"His head was slammed into the hard pavement with excessive force," they said. "This was wrong and should not have occurred."

Martin and Apprey urged students who experience bias or discrimination, including racism, to report it. 

Students have planned a forum starting at 8 p.m. Wednesday, at Clarke 108. 

This is not the first time ABC officers have been placed under scrutiny.

In April 2013, a half-dozen plainclothes ABC agents surrounded UVa student Elizabeth Daly, 20, and two fellow sorority sisters in her SUV the parking lot outside the Harris Teeter store in Barracks Road Shopping Center. One agent pulled a gun and another sought to smash open a window with a flashlight.

Agents mistook a crate of sparkling water for beer. Authorities charged Daly with assaulting law enforcement officers after she fled the parking lot in her SUV, later saying she and her friends did not know who the agents were.

Seven months later, the agency issued 15 policy and procedural changes as a result of the arrest, acknowledging that the agents went too far and failed to exercise common sense.

Daly’s charges were expunged. She filed a $40 million lawsuit and settled for $212,500. 

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