Martese Johnson speaks with NBC12 after charges set aside

Published: Jun. 11, 2015 at 9:08 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 12, 2015 at 8:14 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (WWBT) - The UVA student behind a controversial arrest by ABC agents is opening up to NBC12. On Friday, a judge agreed to set aside the criminal charges against the 20-year-old. Now, he's using his experience to help others. NBC12 is the only Richmond station Martese Johnson is opening up to.

He spoke candidly and confidently.

"I understand that if I was on the southside of Chicago, this is an everyday thing for young men, especially African-American men... I thought coming to Charlottesville, VA and the UVA, this would be my safe haven. When everything happened, it was a quick realization that may not have been true," Johnson said.

ABC agents charged him with obstruction of justice and public intoxication after the 20-year-old was turned away from a bar.

Click here for full #MarteseJohnson coverage:

"I think about the amount of peers I know and classmates that approached me after the incident and said how they were maybe arrested for 'drunk in public' or how ABC officers had dealt with them in the past. And all of these students were white, of course, and I've heard stories of ABC officers giving them a warning or telling them to go home or even offering them taxi cabs to get home," he explained.

Johnson was taken to jail, left bloody and bruised by the arrest. On Friday, a judge agreed to set aside the charges. Now the Johnson wants to use his story to create change, a mission he's been passionate toward, even before his arrest.

READ: Prosecutors request to set aside charges [PDF]:

"You can see past photos of me doing the 'hands up, don't shoot' video and it's very interesting. I've had several conversations where I've told so many people, 'This could be me one day' and then the same year actually, it turned out to be me," Johnson told NBC12.

Right now, ABC is awaiting results of an administrative investigation before determining if any permanent action should be taken against the agents who arrested Johnson.

"We can say, 'Let's charge these officers with assault.' That will punish the officers, but what will that do for society... It really is society that we need to change or else these incidents are going to keep happening," the student said.

The Commonwealth has also decided not to prosecute the officers who arrested Johnson, though those officers remain on administrative duty, pending the outcome of an investigation by state police. The prosecutor is set to present the evidence from this case next week.

Earlier Report:

A judge agreed to set aside charges against a University of Virginia student at the center of a controversial arrest by ABC agents.

A review of the facts in the March 18 arrest of Martese Johnson found "the interest of justice is not served by further prosecution of the defendant," according to court documents. The judge granted the prosecutors' request for an order of Nolle Prosequi, which means they will not go forward with charges at this time.

"I spoke with the Commonwealth's Attorney for Charlottesville this morning and he informed me that his office was not interested in pursuing the charges against Martese Johnson. It has been our position all along that the Virginia ABC officers were not justified in their treatment of Mr. Johnson," said defense attorney Daniel Watkins on Thursday. "When I notified him, he was truly ecstatic. His future remains bright and he looks forward to moving on with his life now that this matter has been resolved."

"In the Commonwealth's view, the interest of justice and the long term interest of the community are best served by taking these events as an opportunity to educate the public and foster constructive dialogue between ordinary citizens, law enforcement officers, and public officials concerning police and citizen relationships in a diverse community," the request from Commonwealth Attorney Dave Chapman reads.

The ABC agents involved will not face criminal charges in the arrest, Chapman also announced.

"In reaching this decision the Commonwealth also found that the evidence did not warrant criminal charges against law enforcement officers who were involved in the events of March 18th," said Chapman in a press release. A presentation of evidence will be made at 1 p.m. on June 17 in City Council Chambers, city officials said. Additionally sessions will follow to "ensure that the events underlying this case result in a constructive community dialogue on this vitally important topic."

Virginia State Police handed over its investigation into ABC agents' arrest of a University of Virginia student in April. Prosecutors reviewed hundreds of pages of documents to decide not to proceed with the criminal charges.

The 20-year-old's case was continued for two months in March while the State Police investigated whether the ABC agents did anything wrong on the night of St. Patrick's Day. Governor Terry McAuliffe ordered extra training for all ABC agents after photos of the bloodied student went viral on social media.

Management of the bar where Johnson was arrested outside have released a statement saying the student did not appear to be intoxicated and was polite after being turned away from the establishment.

Statement from Virginia ABC:

"Virginia ABC respects today's decision of the Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney to not pursue the charges of Public Swearing/Intoxication and Obstruction of Justice without Force against University of Virginia student Martese Johnson, and to not charge the ABC special agents involved in his arrest.

"While the Virginia State Police delivered its findings in the criminal investigation of the incident to the Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney in May, ABC has not reviewed the report produced as part of the investigation. We look forward to the Commonwealth's Attorney's June 17th public presentation concerning the evidence in this case and the conclusions that have been reached. The ABC special agents involved in the March 18 arrest of Mr. Johnson remain on restricted administrative duty as the agency awaits the findings of the separate Virginia State Police administrative investigation of the incident, as requested by Governor Terry McAuliffe.

"The findings of the administrative review, as well as any information shared from the criminal report, will be used to determine any further course of action. Virginia ABC continues to be an active participant in the Enforcement Expert Review Panel established by Governor McAuliffe's Executive Order 40 and looks forward to working with members of the panel as they craft recommendations for the Governor's consideration."

Copyright 2015 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved