RICHMOND — Seven members of a House public safety committee are questioning whether the power to enforce laws against underage drinking should remain with the state’s alcohol-control board, whose agents have made two controversial arrests involving University of Virginia students
The House members sent a letter Monday to Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran to register their concern publicly about the law enforcement operations of the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
Last week, University of Virginia student Martese Johnson, 20, sustained head injuries as ABC agents arrested him, outside a bar, on charges of public intoxication and obstruction of justice. And in 2013, ABC agents who suspected 20-year-old U-Va. student Elizabeth Daly of buying beer swarmed her car, one with a gun drawn. She had purchased sparkling water.
“The undersigned members of the Virginia House of Delegates Militia, Police, and Public Safety Committee have serious concerns about the reports and images that have surfaced of the recent arrest of a young University of Virginia student involving Virginia ABC police officers,” they wrote.
“Unfortunately, as you well know, this is not the first incident in which ABC officers have been accused of overly aggressive tactics in the Charlottesville area.”
The delegates asked to have a discussion with Moran “in the near future” about “the appropriate role of ABC investigators and officers in our communities, and whether there may be less costly, less dangerous ways to address the issue of underage drinking on our college campuses,” they wrote. “Methods that don’t put officers and students at risk of violent physical confrontations.”
The lawmakers, all Democrats, praised Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) for ordering an investigation into Johnson’s arrest and asked Moran to share his findings “at the appropriate time.”
Through a lawyer, Johnson has said officers threw him to the ground after questioning him about his identification card outside an Irish pub. He was described as “very agitated and belligerent” in ABC arrest records, but the agency has declined to discuss how he was injured until the investigation is concluded.
The letter was signed by Democratic Dels. Patrick A. Hope (Arlington), Kaye Kory (Fairfax), Alfonso H. Lopez (Arlington), Sam Rasoul (Roanoke), Marcus B. Simon (Fairfax), Scott A. Surovell (Fairfax) and Roslyn C. Tyler (Sussex).