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Black U-Va. student injured in scuffle with white police officers arresting him

Twenty-year-old University of Virginia junior Martese Johnson sustained a head wound that required 10 stitches after being arrested. (Video: Bryan Beaubrun/The Cavalier Daily)
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This story has been updated.

A black University of Virginia student sustained injuries to his face and head after being detained by a white police officer during an altercation outside of a popular Irish pub in Charlottesville on Tuesday night.

The injuries, captured in cell-phone videos and photographs from a crowd of students nearby, left the student with bloody streaks down his face. In one of the videos, the student calls the police offer “racists” as they try to handcuff his hands behind his back.

The student, junior Martese Johnson, was arrested after he was denied entry to the Trinity Irish Pub. The incident occurred on the sidewalk near a strip of restaurants and bars adjacent to campus called “The Corner.”

Students responded with horror and outrage on social media.

Johnson’s name quickly became a hashtag, linked to #BlackLivesMatter and Ferguson and the highly charged national debate over racism and police.

In videos and pictures captured in the immediate aftermath of the arrest, the student appears to be bleeding from a head wound as three police officers from the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control hold him to the ground.

In videos of the incident shared with The Washington Post, the student can be heard shouting at the officers and calling them “racists.” One officer can be heard telling the student to stop resisting arrest and to place his hands behind his back.

It is not clear from the videos what happened in the moments prior to the arrest or how the student received the head wound, though one onlooker repeatedly tells police that Johnson is bleeding as they are trying to subdue him. According to a statement from the university’s Black Student Alliance, Johnson required 10 stitches.

The Virginia ABC released a statement Wednesday afternoon, saying that special agents had been monitoring licensed establishments on University Avenue in the early morning hours Wednesday when they made an arrest of a 20-year-old at 12:45 a.m.

“The uniformed ABC agents observed and approached the individual after he was refused entry to a licensed establishment,” the statement says. “A determination was made by the agents to further detain the individual based on their observations and further questioning.

“In the course of an arrest being made, the arrested individual sustained injuries. The individual received treatment for his injuries at a local hospital and was released.”

The ABC said that the 20-year-old was charged with public intoxication and obstruction of justice.

Johnson is an elected representative to the school’s prestigious Honor Committee, where he serves as vice chair for community relations, according to the U-Va. Web site. The Honor Committee helps uphold the school’s honor code, which is at the heart of the school’s founding principles of integrity and student self-governance. Johnson did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday afternoon.

U-Va. student council president Jalen Ross confirmed that Johnson is the student seen in videos and pictures being arrested by ABC police officers. Ross said that he was disturbed by the scene.

“Everyone ought to be appalled by this,” said Ross, a senior. “There is no reason that any of our students should have ended up bleeding on The Corner last night.”

Ross said that he hopes students won’t let the incident divide them, but said it already has sparked debate about race relations on campus.

The Black Student Alliance is seeking a swift investigation, saying Johnson was “brutalized” by the police officers and “was left with his blood splattered on the pavement.”

The statement continues:

“After Martese was denied entry to the bar, he found himself suddenly flung to the ground. The brutish force used resulted in his head and bodily injuries. 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. Though he lay bleeding and crying out, officers continued to hold him to the pavement, pinning him down, twisting his arm, with knees to his back until he was handcuffed.”

Officers from the Charlottesville and University police departments responded to the scene. Charlottesville police captain Gary Pleasants said Johnson was booked that night at the Charlottesville jail.

According to an arrest record obtained by the student newspaper, the Cavalier Daily, the arresting officer, Special Agent J. Miller, wrote that Johnson “was very agitated and belligerent but [has] no previous criminal history.”​ The story quoted a student:

“Fourth-year Education student Bryan Beaubrun, who said he witnessed the incident, said an ABC agent approached Johnson shortly after the bouncer at Trinity asked him to step aside after refusing to accept his ID.
‘Martese was talking to the bouncer and there was some discrepancy about his ID,’ Beaubrun said. ‘[An] ABC officer approaches Martese and grabs him by the elbow … and pulls him to the side.’
The arrest took place shortly thereafter, as Johnson was talking with a small group of ABC agents and Charlottesville police officers.
‘It happened so quickly,’ Beaubrun said. ‘Out of nowhere I saw the two officers wrestling Martese to the ground. I was shocked that it escalated that quickly. Eventually [he was] on the ground, they’re trying to put handcuffs on him and their knees were on his back.’

The university has long faced racial tensions on campus, which have become more heated in recent months, after white sophomore Hannah Graham went missing and as police chased the lead suspect in the crime: Black Charlottesville resident Jesse L. Matthew Jr. Matthew now faces charges in her abduction and death after her body was discovered on an abandoned property 10 miles from campus.

Students were demanding answers from U-Va. president Teresa Sullivan Wednesday afternoon.

Sullivan released a statement late Wednesday, expressing her “deep concern” about the incident and saying that aside from a student being injured during an arrest, the university has “not yet clarified all of the details surrounding this event.” She said that she has met with local police and contacted the governor’s office seeking an independent investigation into the matter.

“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,” Sullivan wrote. “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’s office issued a statement Wednesday afternoon in which he said he was calling for an investigation into the arrest:

“Governor McAuliffe is concerned by the reports of this incident and has asked the Secretary of Public Safety to initiate an independent Virginia State Police investigation into the use of force in this matter,” said Brian Coy, a spokesman for McAuliffe. “The Governor’s office has been in contact with University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan and local law enforcement and will continue to monitor this situation closely as the investigation proceeds.”

The Virginia ABC said it is cooperating with the investigation and has restricted the special agents involved in the arrest to administrative duties while the investigation is underway.

Students planned a protest march for 8 p.m. Wednesday from the school’s historic Lawn to the city police station, which other groups planned to join.