March 19, 2015 / 10:00 PM / 5 years ago

Beating of UVA student prompts call to disempower alcohol officers

RICHMOND, Va. (Reuters) - Asking why a young man was “beaten like a dog,” a prominent Virginia state senator on Thursday called for stripping state Alcoholic Beverage Control agents of their arrest powers after officers of the agency bloodied a black college student while arresting him.

In photos circulated on social media, Martese Johnson, 20, vice chair of the University of Virginia’s Honor Committee, was shown with a bloodied face after he was arrested outside a Charlottesville pub by state Alcoholic Beverage Control agents early Wednesday morning.

Senator A. Donald McEachin, who is African American and chairs the state Senate’s Democratic caucus, said ABC agents do not need policing powers.

“What can the legislature do? We can take away their arrest powers,” McEachin said.

The incident sparked campus protests and prompted Governor Terry McAuliffe, at the request of UVA President Teresa Sullivan, to order an independent state police investigation.

One of the misdemeanor charges against Johnson was obstruction of justice without force, McEachin said, emphasizing “without force.”

“So the question becomes, ‘Why is this young man

prostrate on a Charlottesville sidewalk beaten like a dog?’” said McEachin, who graduated from the University of Virginia law school.

A video of the incident posted on student newspaper’s website shows three apparently white officers holding Johnson down. “His head is bleeding,” a voice yells.

“I go to UVA,” Johnson yells repeatedly. “I go to UVA, you ... racists.”

The Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control said on Wednesday it is restricting the special agents involved in the incident to administrative duties while the state police investigation is under way.

Johnson apparently was showing the agents his Illinois ID when he was grabbed by the neck and pushed onto a hard brick surface in front of a pub he was attempting to enter, UVA’s vice president for diversity, Marcus Martin, told CNN.

A breathalyzer test showed that Johnson was not intoxicated at the time of his arrest, Martin said. He said the student ended up with 10 stitches, lacerations on his forehead, multiple bruises and facial swelling.

“We are outraged by the brutality against a University of Virginia undergraduate student,” Martin and the UVA’s dean of African-American affairs, Maurice Apprey, said in a statement.

Controversy swirled around Virginia’s ABC Department in 2013, when agents, with a drawn gun, arrested UVA student Elizabeth Daly after mistaking her box of sparkling water for beer.

Daly, who is white, filed a $40 million lawsuit, which the state attorney general’s office eventually settled for $212,000.

In the last session of the Virginia legislature, the ABC was the subject of an extensive administrative overhaul, in part to stop the practice of stacking the agency with political appointees drawing high salaries.

The ABC dates back to the prohibition in the 1930s, and over the decades has cracked down on illegal alcohol distilling operations.

Johnson is set to appear on March 26 in Charlottesville General District Court to face misdemeanor charges of obstruction of justice, public intoxication and swearing.

Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Mohgammad Zargham

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