CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - The violent arrest of a University of Virginia student sparked new scrutiny of Virginia's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control on Thursday as university officials and Richmond lawmakers questioned the tactics and approach of the agency's law enforcement officers.
The arrest put Charlottesville at the center of a national debate over white police officers' treatment of black youths, and it brought long-simmering racial tensions to the surface at a school steeped in Southern tradition.
The bloody incident also spurred student protests and what Virginia State Police said would be a "comprehensive investigation" into the arrest, both an administrative review at Gov. Terry McAuliffe's request and a criminal investigation at the behest of local prosecutors.
"Getting arrested shouldn't involve getting stitches," Teresa Sullivan, University of Virginia president, said in an interview with the Washington Post. Sullivan met with the student Thursday.
White ABC officers arrested the black student, junior Martese Johnson, 20, after he was denied entry to the Trinity Irish Pub early Wednesday morning near the end of this year's St. Patrick's Day festivities. Johnson suffered head injuries that left bloody streaks down his face, images that spread quickly on social media, inspiring outrage around the country.
"I'm shocked that my face was slammed into the brick pavement just across the street from where I attend school," Johnson said through his attorney at a news conference here late Thursday. Johnson, cuts visible on his head, stood next to his attorney. "As the officers held me down, one thought raced through my mind: 'How could this happen?' "
Johnson's attorney, Daniel Watkins, said the student never offered fake identification to enter the pub. Instead, the student gave a valid Illinois state ID. When an employee at the bar asked Johnson for his zip code, Johnson gave that of his mother's current address, which differed from the one on the ID, which was issued four years ago, Watkins said.
Watkins said that after Johnson was turned away from the bar, Virginia ABC officers then questioned Johnson about possessing false identification, a conversation that led to the student's "being thrown to the ground . . . his face and skull bleeding and needing surgery."
Johnson is an elected representative to the school's prestigious Honor Committee, which upholds the university's honor code. Police charged him with misdemeanor profane swearing and/or public intoxication and obstruction of justice without force. Watkins said he will fight to clear Johnson's name with "the utmost vigor," calling the student "an upstanding young man with a bright future."
The arresting officers were employees of the Virginia ABC, three of the 130 special agents who have full police powers to enforce liquor laws in the state's bars and restaurants and prevent underage drinking.