Civil Rights Claim by UVA Student v. Virginia ABC Agents to go to Trial

The courts will now decide whether the actions of Virginia ABC agents in the arrest of a UVA student on alleged misdemeanor charges were justified and appropriate.



On St. Patrick’s Day 2015 an African American student Martese Johnson, stood in line at a popular UVA student hangout.  After handing his I.D. to a bouncer, he was refused entry to the facility. He attempted to walk away.  Two ABC agents approached this young man from behind. Without identifying themselves, they grabbed his arms, twisting them from behind his back, and according to pleadings in the matter, “slammed” him face first to the ground injuring his face and scalp. The bloodied young student was arrested for obstruction of justice and public intoxication. Those charges were both dismissed in court.  Subsequently, the student sued Agents Miller and Custer.

This case involves the second incident in recent years where the ABC Agents have used extremely aggressive tactics to attempt to subdue potential misdemeanor violators of alcohol control laws.  As citizens,we do not desire or deserve to be brutalized at arrest. Officers must have enforcement of the law to protect their personal safety, but their tactics should never harm anyone unless that person poses a significant threat to the personal safety of officers or others.

We at Cravens and Noll support the law enforcement community, but we also support the rights of citizens, the concept of innocent until proven guilty, and the idea that arrests can be made peacefully, demonstrating dignity to the detainee and adherence to the rule of law. All too often those lines, in the heat of the moment, can become blurred. Hopefully, the federal court will speak to proper arrest protocol.  In my view, we need more Sheriff Andy Taylor’s and fewer RAMBO’s policing our streets. Officers are there to protect life and ensure liberty, not end it.

J. Thompson Cravens

Johnson v. Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control

United States Federal Court, Charlottesville, Virginia

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