UVA students shut down area near Martese Johnson arrest

Published: Mar. 19, 2015 at 1:17 AM EDT|Updated: Mar. 19, 2015 at 11:03 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (WWBT) - After night fell on the avenue where Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control agents arrested a 20-year-old student, members of the University of Virginia community shut down the surrounding area, protesting perceived excessive police force.

Dried blood on the bricks along University Avenue remained, where third-year student Martese Johnson hit the ground. Photos of Johnson's bloodied face quickly spread online Wednesday, along with a cell phone video that captured the arrest.

ABC agents walked the area hours earlier around 12:45 a.m., checking bars and restaurants for compliance with alcohol laws. When the agents saw Johnson turned away from a bar, they questioned the student and ultimately arrested him.

"Just before handcuffing him, police took Martese to the ground, striking his head on the pavement and causing him to bleed profusely from the gash on his head," said Daniel P. Watkins, an attorney now representing Johnson.

"This morning [Johnson] received ten stitches at the University of Virginia Medical Center. Fortunately, Martese's physical wounds are beginning to heal."

What remains unclear is how questions outside a bar escalated into bloodshed, triggering protests and marches across Charlottesville into early Thursday.

"A determination was made by the agents to further detain the individual based on their observations and further questioning," said the ABC in a written statement.

"Virginia ABC is restricting the special agents involved in the incident to administrative duties while the investigation is underway."

A multitude of protesters chanted, "if we don't get it, shut it down," as they marched east on University Avenue. Students sat on the pavement directly across from the arrest scene, stopping traffic for blocks.

The protests halted three fire trucks en route to a call for service, with students eventually clearing the way for first responders.

The arrest prompted Gov. Terry McAuliffe to launch an immediate investigation, as news of the incident spread across Virginia and the nation.

"Governor McAuliffe is concerned by the reports of this incident and has asked the Secretary of Public Safety to initiate an independent Virginia State Police investigation into the use of force in this matter," said Brian Coy, a spokesman for McAuliffe.

Johnson's attorney said the third-year student has no criminal record, and holds numerous prestigious positions at UVa.

Johnson's leadership roles include Vice Chair for Community Relations of the Honor Committee, Vice Polemarch of the Eta Sigma Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi, and a Chair of the Leadership Development Committee of the Black Student Alliance.

"I have spoken with [Johnson] several times today, and he is absolutely devastated by yesterday's events," Watkins said. "Currently, we are preparing to investigate and defend this matter vigorously."

According to court records, Johnson will appear in Charlottesville General District Court March 26 at 10 a.m. He is charged with obstruction of justice without force and public intoxication, both misdemeanors.

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