Panel: Virginia Alcohol Agency Should Retain Arrest Powers | us news

Panel: Virginia Alcohol Agency Should Retain Arrest Powers

23 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Alcohol enforcement should stay with ABC, state review panel says.

RICHMOND — University of Virginia student Martese Johnson was drinking in the hours before his controversial arrest outside a Charlottesville bar last March, according to witnesses interviewed as part of an administrative investigation into the handling of the incident by officers from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. As we first told you last night, the governor changed positions after all those involved in Martese Johnson’s bloody arrest signed off on a release. Once there clock on the document titled “Virginia State Police Administrative Investigation/Review on Martese Johnson Arrest, September 22, 2015 (PDF)”.

McAuliffe’s administration said Tuesday that it was able to release the report because the three officers involved had waived protection of their personnel information. The independent investigators at the Virginia State Police did a thorough and professional job with this review and I thank them for their outstanding work. In its report, posted to the ABC website Tuesday, the 20-person panel recommended that ABC agents wear body cameras when conducting law enforcement operations, but not when performing regulatory activity. A panel formed after the violent arrest of a student by Virginia’s liquor agency has declined to recommend stripping the agency of its arrest powers.

In August, the ABC announced that three agents were returning to duty because a state police report had cleared them of any wrongdoing related to the arrest. The report also suggests that the three ABC agents, who were taken off duty in the wake of the arrest and reinstated in early August, did not violate their department’s general orders for using force. Those responsibilities, which involve field activity to combat underage drinking, have come under heavy scrutiny after the Johnson arrest and the 2013 arrest of U.Va. student Elizabeth Daly, who was accosted by ABC agents in a parking lot after the agents mistook a case of sparkling water for beer.

But the report remained under wraps, much to the chagrin of state legislators charged with overseeing the ABC and open-government activists, who asserted that the claimed personnel exemption was bogus. However, while the review found that the agents “only used physical force to detain and arrest Johnson,” it notes that they did not employ any “defensive tools” to de-escalate the confrontation. The panel, led by Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran, involved law enforcement, prosecutors, ABC license holders and alcohol education groups, among others. State police conducted a criminal investigation at the request of Albemarle County Attorney Warner “Dave” Chapman and an administrative review of the agents’ conduct. Chapman concluded in June that no charges were warranted against Johnson nor the agents after reviewing a range of conflicting accounts of the altercation.

Charlottesville prosecutor Dave Chapman allowed him to review that report for about 90 minutes, shortly before police dropped charges against Johnson in June. Johnson, then 20, was bloodied after being wrestled to the ground when officers attempted to detain him under the belief that he was using a fake ID to gain admission to the popular Trinity Bar, located at The Corner just off UVa’s campus. Watkins said Chapman has not responded to subsequent requests to see the report since then, as Johnson has considered filing a civil suit over the incident. Based on the exceptional nature of the release of this material, the Commonwealth of Virginia Office of the Attorney General has examined the report and redacted medical information in accordance with state and federal law.

Witness names and information have also been redacted to protect their identities and avoid inhibiting witness participation in future cases of this nature. The willingness of numerous witnesses to discuss the events and provide valuable information was essential to preparing a complete report on this incident. (The specific sections concerning the agents’ waiver are: § 2.2-3705.1(1) under FOIA which discusses personnel records; DHRM Policy 6.05 enacted pursuant to Code §2.2-1201(A)(13) which prohibits agencies from releasing personnel info without consent of the employee; and § 32.1-127.1:03(A)(3) which concerns health records privacy and prohibiting its unauthorized release.)” The full VSP administrative review – in its redacted form – can be read here: https://www.abc.virginia.gov/library/about/pdfs/vsp-admin-report-martese-johnson-arrest.pdf?la=en (format: 119 page .pdf) According to notes Watkins took, witnesses to the incident fell into three distinct groups: those who recalled that Johnson “tumbled down”; those who said the officers “slammed him” to the ground; and those who said he went down during a struggle with officers.

Once he realized the person was a law enforcement officer, he complied with a request to show his ID, Watkins said. “Next thing he knows, he’s being slammed on the ground,” Watkins said. According to court documents, the ABC officers alleged that Johnson’s eyes appeared “red and glassy” and that he acted belligerently during the arrest. Johnson’s arrest led to campus protests and put renewed focus on the law-enforcement activities of Virginia’s ABC, which was sued after a 2013 incident in which its plainclothes agents confronted a 20-year-old white student in the parking lot of a Charlottesville supermarket.

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