April 1, 2015 – Given the interest in the Martese Johnson case, I want to provide you an update of my understanding of its status. Like many of you, I was very disturbed to see the graphic photos and watch the video of this recent incident at the UVa Corner. Many of you have seen my recent statement, and have heard a number of comments I have made about prospective legislation that can remove the ABC agents from enforcing laws that more properly should be province by local law enforcement. Most of you know by now that the actions at the UVa Corner were taken by ABC agents and not by the Charlottesville or University police departments.
Since this incident, several important events have occurred:
- The Governor immediately called for an investigation and administrative review. An administrative review is conducted by the Commonwealth’s office of Professional Standards. It is my understanding that the same office and the same personnel investigated the Elizabeth Daly incident several years ago.
- Very significantly, however, the Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Charlottesville, Dave Chapman, immediately requested a criminal investigation. That request has been fully supported by the Governor’s office and will be conducted by the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigations. This is significant because it is a higher level of review than occurred in the Daly case. A Professional Standards administrative review looks at the law enforcement documents as they find them. Very little additional inquiry occurs; rather, the investigation focuses on whether the law enforcement personnel conformed to Professional Standards. A criminal investigation is a much higher level of inquiry and involves interviewing and collecting evidence from a wide variety of sources. This is significant because it is a higher level review than the Daly case, and I think it reflects the sensitivity and concern that many of us have about this incident.
- Also, unlike the Daly review, the Governor issued an executive order requiring the ABC to review its process, and authorized creation of a group that will determine what, if any, statutory changes need to be made. The Governor’s order requires retraining of ABC officers and the development of memoranda of understanding (MOU) between ABC and local police departments. So far as we know, there is presently no such MOU between the Charlottesville police department and the ABC. We know that some of the Charlottesville police officers knew that the ABC agents were working the Corner that night, but it was an informal notification and one that I do not believe went to the leadership of the police department. The Charlottesville police department does not have “veto power” on whether the ABC can conduct an investigation, and that is certainly one of the issues that would need to be defined in any MOU. Secretary of Public Safety, Brian Moran, is in the process of determining who will be on the review board. There are many persons who have interest in this and it will be a statewide panel. I expect that there will be student representation from UVa on the panel, but we will have to see.
- I understand that the restaurant involved in this incident has a hearing forthcoming for alleged violations of ABC regulations. That is something worth monitoring.
- There has been a suggestion that ABC agents be equipped with body cameras. That is an issue that is being discussed by the Commonwealth Preparedness Panel, who will likely report out in the next six months.
- Martese Johnson appeared in the Charlottesville General District Court on March 26, 2015. This was a “first appearance” and usually nothing happens on those court dates. It is not uncommon for a trial date to be set the way it was in this case. The trial date has now been set for May 28, 2015, to enable the State Police to complete their criminal investigation in this case. I doubt that any decisions will be made about prosecuting the case until the investigation has been completed.
I have heard many calls to immediately dismiss the charges against Mr. Johnson. While this certainly seems reasonable given what many of us have seen, it is not likely that any decisions will occur in this case until the criminal investigation has been concluded. It is very important for eyewitnesses to come forward with any information that they saw that night or to provide names of people with whom they have come into contact that might have information related to this incident. If they have such information, they can call the Virginia State Police at 804-674-2000.
I will try to keep constituents informed about other developments as they become available to me.
P.S. In 2014, I introduced HB 922, a bill to prevent ABC agents from using or threatening to use deadly force in the arrest or detention of a person suspected of underage drinking. The bill was tabled on a voice vote by the Committee on General Laws. I expect to introduce legislation this year to again address problems with the ABC.