No Charges for Martese Johnson
A University of Virginia student who was bloodied by state liquor agents during an arrest that sparked a public uproar said he was “ecstatic” that charges against him were dismissed Friday.
Martese Johnson, who is black, told reporters that he believes race was a factor in his arrest and that his ordeal has reinforced his desire to work for social justice.
“I’ve always been passionate about social justice and the plight of minority communities in this country, but this took it to another level,” Johnson said outside Charlottesville General District Court, where a judge accepted a prosecutor’s recommendation to dismiss charges of resisting arrest without force and public intoxication or swearing.
Alcoholic Beverage Control Department agents arrested the 20-year-old Chicago junior outside a bar across the street from campus March 18. The arrest received widespread attention with photos and videos on social media showing Johnson pinned to the ground, his face bloodied. Johnson could be heard on the video recording calling the officers racist.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe ordered a state police investigation of the arrest. Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Chapman said in court that after reviewing the findings of that investigation, he determined that “the interest of justice is best served” by dropping the prosecution. He said in a statement Thursday night that the arresting officers won’t face charges, either.
Johnson said he was fine with that decision because he believes “society as a whole” is largely to blame for the incident. He also said that while race was a factor, poor training and the “over-militarization” of police forces also played a role.
ABC said in a statement that the arresting officers will remain on desk duty until the agency receives results of a separate state police administrative review of the incident.
In addition to the state police investigations, McAuliffe ordered retraining of ABC agents and appointed a task force to examine the agency’s law enforcement officers. One issue before the panel, which will make its recommendations by Nov. 1, is whether the ABC should be stripped of arrest powers.
The Johnson’s incident came two years after another U.Va. student was arrested outside a supermarket by ABC agents who mistook a carton of sparkling water for beer. Undercover agents swarmed Elizabeth Daly’s vehicle, one pulling a gun and another trying to break her windshield with a flashlight. The incident sparked a public backlash, and she settled a lawsuit for $212,500.
Defense attorney Daniel P. Watkins declined to say whether Johnson would file a lawsuit. Watkins said the main goals of eliminating Johnson’s criminal liability and protecting his reputation were met with the dismissal of the charges.
Johnson, who needed 10 stitches to close a gash on his head after the arrest, said he appreciated the outpouring of support, including 300 text messages the morning after his arrest.
Two days later, about 500 students demanded answers about the arrest and about ABC tactics during a forum at U.Va. Dissatisfied with responses that they considered too broad, representatives of a black students’ organization shouted in unison, “Answer the question we asked.” They marched out, fists raised and chanting “Black lives matter.”
Chapman said the dialogue will continue with a public meeting about the incident Wednesday. It’s Johnson’s 21st birthday. He said he will be there.