A University of Virginia student is suing the Commonwealth of Virginia for $40 million after her harrowing run-in with the state police, who–acting out of “anger and personal spite”–drew their guns and arrested her on obviously false charges, according to the lawsuit.
The incident happened last June, after 20-year-old Elizabeth Daly and two of her friends purchased a case of water bottles and cookie-baking supplies at a local Harris Teeter.
Officers with Virginia’s Alcohol Beverage Control agency were staking out the grocery store, on the hunt for lawbreakers. Mistaking Daly’s water bottles for beer, they thought they had found one.
Three officers followed the students to Daly’s car. After Daly and her friends had already climbed inside, the officers began banging on their windows. They were wearing their badges around their necks, but Daly couldn’t see them clearly and were unsure whether they were actual cops, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Daly was instructed to roll down her window, but she couldn’t do so without turning the car on, which angered the officers. One drew a gun and attempted to bash in the window.
Daly called 911 and tried to drive to a police station. The emergency operator then told her that the assailants were indeed police officers, so she pulled over. Police then arrested her for assaulting two different officers and failing to stop when ordered. She spent a night in jail. (RELATED: UPDATED: UVA student jailed for possession of bottled water, ice cream)
The charges were eventually dropped, after ABC determined that the officers’s heavy-handed tactics violated official policy.
The ordeal terrified Daly and left her in a nervous state. Her lawsuit alleges that the officers “acted with actual malice, out of embarrassment and disgrace for their own intentional and grossly negligent acts and charged (Daly) with three felonies and did so out of anger and personal spite.”
According to the lawsuit, Daly, “does not and never has consumed alcohol or abused drugs, and/or her parents, on her behalf, have incurred significant legal, medical and other costs, and will continue to do so in the future due to the malicious, intentional, and/or grossly negligent actions of the (d)efendants.”
The lawsuit asks for $40 million in damages.
While that may seem like a lot of money, The Washington Post’s Radley Balko wrote that it “may be just what Virginia policymakers need to start taking these issues seriously.” The militarization of regulatory agencies such as the ABC is a disturbing trend, he wrote.
A spokesperson for the attorney general said the state deeply regretted the incident.
ABC did not immediately respond to a request for comment about its general policing practices.