A University of Virginia senior who was thrown to the ground and bloodied during his arrest outside an Irish bar in March has filed a federal lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Congtrol and the agency’s three police officers who took part in the arrest.
Martese Johnson, 21, alleges in the lawsuit filed in Charlottesville, Va., that the ABC violated his Constitutional rights by unlawfully detaining him when he was arrested in the early morning hours of March 18 after taking part in St. Patrick’s Day celebrations at the flagship public university.
Johnson, who recently detailed his account of the events in Vanity Fair magazine, was shackled around his ankles and wrists and suffered a bleeding head wound that required 10 stitches.
Images and videos capturing the incident went viral online at a time when the nation was in an active dialogue about police tactics against — and sometimes fatal interactions with — young, black men. The videos of Johnson showed three white ABC police officers on top of Johnson, an African American, his face covered in blood, as he was arrested on the sidewalk outside an Irish pub.
Johnson — who was 20 at the time – had attempted to enter the bar using his real identification card before he was turned away by a bouncer. As he went to leave, Johnson was approached by ABC officers who asked to see his Illinois driver’s license. The encounter ended when the officers and Johnson fell to the bricks in a heap.
Johnson’s federal lawsuit comes four months after misdemeanor charges of public intoxication or swearing and obstruction of justice against him were dropped by Charlottesville prosecutor Warner “Dave” Chapman. The ABC officers also did not face charges as a result of the arrest.
“Martese’s bloody arrest captured national attention and sparked an intensive review of law enforcement policies, procedures, and training,” Johnson’s lawyer, Daniel Watkins, said in a statement Tuesday.
Kathleen Shaw, a spokeswoman for the Virginia ABC, declined to comment on pending litigation.
Watkins noted that Johnson’s arrest inspired Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) to sign an executive order reforming training practices for ABC police offficers, including in the areas of cultural diversity and use of force.
McAuliffe wrote in his executive order that Johnson’s arrest “underscored longstanding concerns about the agency’s Bureau of Law Enforcement and exposed the need for more extensive training and oversight.”
The ABC police officers, Johnson’s federal lawsuit alleges, “brutally assaulted, seized, arrested, and jailed Martese, without probable cause and in violation of the United States Constitution, federal statutes, and the laws of Virginia, believing (falsely and without sufficient information) that Martese had presented a fake identification card to gain entry to a restaurant and bar on University Avenue in the City of Charlottesville, Virginia.”
The lawsuit alleges the identification card was valid and that Johnson did nothing wrong.
Johnson’s complaint alleges that the first ABC officer who stopped him on the sidewalk did not identify himself before placing his hand on the U-Va. student’s arm. The lawsuit also claims that the officers did not recite Miranda rights to Johnson while he was placed under arrest and that the information used to justify the public intoxication charges “was based on illegally obtained statements.”
Johnson was forced to withdraw from a class and missed multiple weeks of course instruction at U-Va. after the incident. In the lawsuit, Johnson seeks $3 million for his suffering of “physical injuries and severe mental anguish due to the egregious nature of the Agents’ actions.”