CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The prosecutor from the Office of Charlottesville’s Commonwealth Attorney defended the decision not to bring charges against the three officers involved in the bloody arrest of University of Virginia student Martese Johnson in March.
The three Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) officers arrested the 20-year-old Johnson, who was suspected of trying to use a fake ID to enter Charlottesville’s Trinity Irish Pub.
At a press conference here, prosecutor Dave Chapman and assistant attorney Nina Antony presented evidence from the state police report from the night Johnson sustained a head laceration after being detained on the ground for refusing to comply with the ABC officers.
“No matter what community you’re in,” Chapman said after replaying video of the arrest, “This is what it looks like to detain someone who is resisting arrest.”
“These officers were instantly vilified,” Chapman said, recounting the national outcry that ensued the weeks following the arrest based on a leaked photo of Johnson on the ground, face bloodied.
Chapman and Antony thoroughly detailed the main facts of the night in question and maintained that the officers did have reasonable suspicion, did follow protocol and did not purposely injure Johnson.
“It was too sloppy to have been done on purpose,” a witness testimony stated.
— But A Flower. #TAAN (@danayasworld) March 18, 2015
The entirety of the incident occurred between 12:48 and 12:49 a.m., lasting a total of 10-12 seconds, but 6.5 seconds of the video from the street camera was not recorded due to a technological glitch in the camera’s system. An expert confirmed in the police report that no one had tampered with the video.
According to the state police report, Johnson attempted to enter Trinity Irish Pub for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, but was denied entrance by the pub owner, who looked at Johnson’s ID at the front door. According to Virginia law, it is not unlawful to be in a pub if you are under 21, but it is up to the discretion of the owner as to whether or not minors are allowed entrance on a night to night basis.
Johnson was reportedly denied entrance because there was a discrepancy in the ZIP code that was printed on his ID and the ZIP code he told the owner when asked to give his address.
After watching the pub owner look at Johnson’s ID, shake his head no and hand the ID back to Johnson, the first ABC officer approached Johnson, touched his arm and asked to check his ID, the prosecutors said. Under Virginia law, ABC officers are permitted to “approach, question, and detain” individuals that give “reasonable suspicion” of using false identification.
Chapman said it was completely “lawful” for the officer to confront Johnson.
Johnson pulled his arm away from the officer, did not respond and turned to leave, which led the same officer to touch Johnson’s arm again and ask to see his ID.
A second ABC officer approached, touched Johnson’s other arm and told Johnson to show the first officer his ID.
Upon noncompliance, the two ABC officers attempted to detain Johnson for further questioning, the police report found. Johnson physically resisted the detainment, and the three struggled before Johnson slipped and fell to the ground.
The two officers then subdued Johnson by holding him on the ground while they attempted to handcuff him, but they could only get handcuffs on one wrist. A third ABC officer approached and put a second set of handcuffs on Johnson’s other wrist, and then the officers attached the two sets of handcuffs.
Swearing and accusing the officers of being racist, Johnson was held on the ground while shackles were put on his legs to stop him from kicking.
The officers called for medical assistance after seeing the laceration on Johnson’s forehead, and Johnson was taken to the hospital before the officers were able to further question him.
The prosecutors said that individuals who had been with Johnson earlier that evening confirmed that he had consumed enough alcohol to be deemed under the influence, but Johnson’s blood-alcohol level is sealed in his medical records and that information will not be released to the public.
Chapman said that he believes these officers “deserve credit” for “staying on point” despite “unlawful” physical resistance, being accused of acting on the basis of racism and being filmed by onlookers.
The prosecutor also bragged that the ABC officers did not use pepper spray, a collapsible baton or other “pain compliance measures.”
Chapman said that Johnson’s resistance gave the officers probable cause to arrest him because, regardless of whether a detainment is lawful or not, resisting arrest is illegal.
NEXT PAGE: Locals Skeptical: ‘I Think Race Was Absolutely A Factor’
After a criminal investigation, the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office reached the consensus that neither Johnson nor the officers would be prosecuted with criminal charges.
“I wished he used different judgment,” Chapman said. “But that doesn’t mean we should give that young man who came a long way to the University of Virginia a criminal record.”
The prosecutor also stated that there was no evidence the incident was racially motivated.
“Had we thought for a moment that malice, that racial animosity or intentional or reckless disregard of their authority as sworn law enforcement officers had existed, we would not have hesitated to pursue charges against anyone who was so involved,” Chapman stated.
However, Charlottesville locals who were in attendance were skeptical.
“I think race was absolutely a factor,” one African-American attendee responded. “I encounter [that] everyday of my life. … Do you hire any black people, as I asked you a long time ago?”
Another audience member, who was said that she was speaking “as a social worker … and as a mother,” disagreed that the officers should be “given credit for doing their jobs.”
“What I see is three large men,” the woman said referring to the ABC officers, “And I’m going to add that I am a mother too and my kids are all in their twenties. When I see that, it is just beyond my comprehension.”
But the audience had two questions that seemed to be on repeat. How could this have been different? And what can we learn from this going forward?
Both attorneys agreed that the events of March 18 were unfortunate and recognize that there is always room to be retrospective, but for the most part are just thankful that Martese Johnson, or anybody else, sustained more serious injuries.
They also said that while there are certainly lessons to take away from this incident, our society needs to reach a point where all facts can be examined and presented before there is national outcry.
“You always want to be careful to rush to judgment on either end — either pro-law enforcement or anti-law enforcement,” Attorney Nina Antony told The Daily Caller, “Even if we conduct a full criminal investigation and stay faithful to the legal standards — like we did in this case — we’re always going to have some people who don’t agree with our decision. But it is our job to make that decision.”