Lawyer Daniel Watkins, right, stands with UVa student Martese Johnson, center, his mother Dychea and his brother Michael, left, before making a statement at a press conference March 19, 2015. | AP file photo

Alcohol agents cleared in arrest of UVa student Martese Johnson

SHARE Alcohol agents cleared in arrest of UVa student Martese Johnson
SHARE Alcohol agents cleared in arrest of UVa student Martese Johnson

RICHMOND, Va. — Three Virginia liquor agents involved in a bloody arrest that prompted allegations of racism followed procedures and did nothing wrong, the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Department said Monday.

The arrest of University of Virginia student Martese Johnson of Chicago caused a furor after photos and video of the 20-year-old, pinned to the sidewalk by an officer and bleeding from the head, were circulated widely on social media. Johnson, who is black, could be heard on the recordings calling the officers racist.

Johnson graduated from Chicago’s Kenwood Academy.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe ordered Virginia State Police to investigate. The report was completed about two weeks ago.

“After thoroughly reviewing the incident and the report, Virginia ABC concluded that the agents did not violate agency policy and returned these special agents to active duty today,” the ABC said in a news release.

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The agents had been on desk duty since the March arrest outside a pub across the street from the campus.

“Because Virginia law prohibits disclosure of personnel files, the administrative review will not be released, and Virginia ABC cannot comment on specifics of the matter,” the department said.

State police also have refused to release the report.

Nearly two months ago, a Charlottesville prosecutor said a separate criminal investigation found no evidence of malice or racism by the officers, who weren’t charged.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Chapman also dropped misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest and public swearing or intoxication against Johnson.

According to Chapman, the pub owner told investigators that he turned away Johnson after he failed to correctly recite the ZIP code on his ID. Witness accounts of what happened next varied. Johnson and some witnesses said he was “slammed” to the ground by the officers. Other witnesses said the officers and Johnson appeared to fall accidentally, supporting an account by the ABC agents.

Johnson’s attorney, Daniel Watkins, did not immediately return a telephone message Monday.

Along with ordering the state police administrative review, McAuliffe ordered retraining for the agency’s approximately 130 law enforcement officers. The ABC said that training — which included hands-on and classroom instruction on use of force, cultural diversity, effective interaction with youth, and community policing — was completed last month.

The governor also appointed a panel to examine ABC’s law enforcement practices and make recommendations by Nov. 1.

The Johnson incident came two years after another U.Va. student was arrested outside a supermarket by ABC agents who mistook a carton of sparkling water for beer. Undercover agents swarmed Elizabeth Daly’s vehicle, one pulling a gun and another trying to break her windshield with a flashlight. The incident sparked a public backlash, and she settled a lawsuit for $212,500.

Watkins has declined to say whether Johnson also will file a lawsuit.

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