UPDATE: In a June 28 posting on its very own Facebook page, the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control defended its actions.
“Agents were working in the area, concentrating on underage possession enforcement. An agent observed what appeared to be an underage person in possession of what appeared to be a case of beer, and approached her to investigate,” the anonymously authored posting reads. “The agent identified herself as a police officer and was displaying her badge. Other agents did not join the incident until the subject refused to cooperate.”
“We take all citizen complaints seriously and the matter is currently under review by the ABC Bureau of Law Enforcement,” the posting also says.
A University of Virginia student spent a night and good part of the next day in jail after seven plain-clothes agents from the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control division ambushed her.
The student, 20-year-old Elizabeth Daly, made the mistake of walking to her car with bottled water, cookie dough and ice cream in a dark supermarket parking lot near the UVA campus, reports The Daily Progress.
The seven agents sprung aggressively into action, suspecting that the student was carrying was a 12-pack of beer. She was actually carrying a sky-blue carton of LaCroix sparkling water.
Police admit that one of the high-strung agents vaulted onto the hood of Daly’s car. She contends that one of them also drew a gun.
It’s not clear what about Daly’s appearance gave the lawmen (and one law woman) the belief that they had probable cause to confront her en masse.
Daly, along with two roommates who were in the car, did what reasonable, unarmed people usually do when violently pounced upon by seven people. They tried to get away.
“They were showing unidentifiable badges after they approached us, but we became frightened, as they were not in anything close to a uniform,” Daly said in a written account, according to The Daily Progress.
“I couldn’t put my windows down unless I started my car, and when I started my car they began yelling to not move the car, not to start the car. They began trying to break the windows. My roommates and I were … terrified,” the student also wrote.
According to court records obtained by the Charlottesville paper, Daly “grazed” two agents with her vehicle. At this time, the records state, the unidentified passenger in the front seat of her SUV was yelling “go, go, go” and simultaneously diving into the back seat.
Once the three students managed to make it out of the parking lot, they called 911. Daly testified that her goal was to drive immediately to a police station. However, she was stopped by a vehicle with identifiable sirens and lights.
Daly had just left an annual UVA “Take Back the Night” vigil on the famous campus founded by the man who drafted the Declaration of Independence. She was eventually able to explain that she had purchased the water and junk food for a sorority benefit. She also apologized.
The seven Alcoholic Beverage Control agents were not satisfied. They charged Daly with three felonies: one count of eluding police and two counts of assaulting a law enforcement officer. In Virginia, each of these Class Six felonies carries up to five years in prison and up to $2,500 in fines.
The seven agents then had her hauled to the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail.
The incident occurred April 11. Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Chapman deigned to drop the criminal charges this week.
“You don’t know all the facts until you complete the investigation,” Chapman told The Daily Progress in defense of his own actions and the actions of the Alcoholic Beverage Control agents.
It’s unclear why Chapman’s investigation took some 80 days.
The Charlottesville broadsheet also does not mention how much Daly paid her defense attorney, Francis Lawrence.
A spokeswoman for Alcoholic Beverage Control’s regional office, Carol Mawyer, refused to provide details other than saying that the bureau’s agents cunningly wear plainclothes.
“This has been an extremely trying experience,” Daly wrote in her statement. “It is something to this day I cannot understand or believe has come to this point.”
Follow Eric on Twitter and send education-related story tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.