(WARNING: This article includes a graphic image of the bloodied student.)
University of Virginia student Martese Johnson, whose bloody arrest near the campus sparked outrage Wednesday, said in a statement Thursday he was "shocked that my face was slammed into the brick pavement across the road from my school."
Johnson, 20, was arrested outside the Charlottesville bar by state Alcoholic Beverage Control agents. The arrest left the respected third-year student bloodied and shouting allegations of racism and caused uproar on the University of Virginia's campus Wednesday. Gov. Terry McAuliffe ordered the Virginia State Police to investigate the arrest of Johnson, who needed 10 stitches to close a gash on his head after the altercation with police.
Johnson’s attorney Daniel Watkins addressed the media Thursday, saying Johnson has worked “hard to become a well respected leader on campus” and that he intends to "fight the criminal charges against him with the utmost vigor."
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Watkins said, contrary to some media reports, at no time during the encounter with police did Johnson present a fake ID.
Johnson did not speak at the news conference, but Watkins read a statement on his behalf.
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"I trust the scars on my face and head will one day heal, but the trauma of what those officers did will stay with me forever," Johnson said in his statement.
He said he knows "this community will support me during this time."
Johnson's mother, who worked the night shift with social services in Chicago, flew in to be with her son, Watkins said. She did not speak at the press conference.
Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia local news, events and information
Johnson did make a comment Wednesday night, when hundreds of students gathered at the UVa. campus before marching down streets in Charlottesville’s downtown area, making their way to police headquarters, according to NBC affiliate WVIR.
"We deserve to respect each other, especially in times like this," Johnson said, apparently to calm the crowd.
A photo of the 20-year-old Johnson bloody-faced on the ground next to an officer went viral on social media and prompted school President Teresa Sullivan and Gov. McAuliffe to call for an investigation Johnson's arrest.
“I thought about how this poor man’s mother would feel when she saw that photo, because I know how it made me feel,” Sullivan told News4's David Culver.
Virginia State Police is conducting an administrative review of the arrest at McAuliffe's request.
About 12:45 a.m. Wednesday, Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control agents watched as a bouncer refused Johnson entry into the Trinity Irish Pub in The Corner, a social hub near the U.Va. campus, the Associated Press reported. U.Va. student Bryan Beaubrun, who said he is friends with Johnson and witnessed the arrest, said an ABC agent then grabbed Johnson by the arm and pulled him away from the bar to speak with a group of police officers.
According to ABC, the agents decided to detain Johnson after questioning him.
After about a minute talking to the officers, Beaubrun said, Johnson asked the ABC agent to let go of his arm and tried pulling away, the AP reported. At that point, another ABC agent grabbed Johnson from behind and the two ABC agents wrestled him to the ground, Beaubrun said.
"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 Johnson's attorney, Daniel P. Watkins. "This morning he received ten stitches at the University of Virginia Medical Center. Fortunately, Martese's physical wounds are beginning to heal."
The agent who made the arrest, listed in court records as J. Miller, said in the arrest report that Johnson “was very agitated and belligerent.”
"He didn't need to be tackled," Beaubrun told the AP. "He wasn't being aggressive at all."
Charlottesville General District Court records show Johnson was charged with obstruction of justice without force and public swearing or intoxication, both misdemeanors.
An email to the U.Va. community signed “Concerned Black Students” claims the arrest of Johnson was unprovoked. It includes the photo of Johnson on the ground with blood covering his face and an officer kneeling next to him with his hands on Johnson.
The pictured officer's involvement in the incident is unknown at this time.
Students marched up and down The Corner Wednesday evening in peaceful protest, shouting for justice.
"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," the statement reads. "The Governor's office has been in contact with University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan and local law enforcement and will continue to monitor this situation closely as the investigation proceeds."
ABC said it will provide any assistance state police need in the investigation. The special agents involved are restricted to administrative duties during the investigation.
Johnson, a third-year student, is double-majoring in Italian and media studies. He is 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.
Watkins described him as "absolutely devastated" by the incident.
ABC agents in Charlottesville have been accused of heavy-handed actions in the past.
The state of Virginia reached a $212,500 settlement last year with a U.Va. student who was arrested after her purchase of water was mistaken for beer.
Elizabeth Daly fled in terror outside a Charlottesville supermarket in April 2013 when her vehicle was swarmed by state ABC agents who mistook her just-purchased carton of sparkling water for beer.
Daly was charged with eluding police and assaulting a police officer after her SUV grazed two of the agents. The arrest provoked a public outcry, and the charges were dropped.
Statement From Martese Johnson's Attorney:
On March 18, 2015, Charlottesville Police charged 20-year old Martese Johnson with two misdemeanors: 1) obstruction of justice without force and 2) profane swearing and/or intoxication in public. The charges were filed after a Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) officer and local police confronted Mr. Johnson near "the Corner," a popular off-campus social hub near the University of Virginia. Contrary to early police reports, Mr. Johnson has not been accused of possessing false identification.
"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," Mr. Watkins said. "This morning he received ten stitches at the University of Virginia Medical Center. Fortunately, Martese's physical wounds are beginning to heal."
Mr. Johnson is a third-year student at the University of Virginia, double majoring in Italian and Media Studies. He holds numerous leadership positions on grounds, including 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. He has no criminal record.
"As evidenced by both his academic and extracurricular achievements, Martese is a smart young man with a bright future," Mr. Watkins said. "I have spoken with him several times today, and he is absolutely devastated by yesterday's events. Currently, we are preparing to investigate and defend this matter vigorously. Please keep Martese in your prayers during this difficult time."
Mr. Johnson and his family ask that the media respect his privacy at this time and direct any further questions to his attorney, Daniel Watkins, with Williams Mullen. The investigation is still in its early stages, and Mr. Watkins and Williams Mullen are limited in what information can be shared with the media.
Virginia ABC's Complete Statement:
While monitoring licensed establishments on University Avenue in the City of Charlottesville, uniformed Virginia ABC special agents arrested a 20-year-old male early on the morning of March 18.
The individual was charged with Public Intoxication and Obstruction of Justice in an incident that occurred at approximately 12:45 a.m. on March 18 in the 1500 block of University Avenue. The uniformed ABC Agents observed and approached the individual after he was refused entry to a licensed establishment. A determination was made by the agents to further detain the individual based on their observations and further questioning.
In the course of an arrest being made, the arrested individual sustained injuries. The individual received treatment for his injuries at a local hospital and was released.
Governor McAuliffe has requested that Virginia State Police conduct an independent investigation into the circumstances of the arrest, including use of force. Virginia ABC will provide whatever information or assistance is requested by Virginia State Police.
Virginia ABC is restricting the Special Agents involved in the incident to administrative duties while the investigation is underway.
U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan sent the following email to the school community Wednesday:
Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:
I write to express my deep concern about an incident that occurred on The Corner early this morning and to provide information about immediate steps that I have taken in response.
At about 12:45 a.m., one of our students was injured while Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) agents were attempting to take him into custody on the sidewalk in front of Trinity Irish Pub. University Police and Charlottesville Police arrived on the scene shortly after the incident occurred. We have not yet clarified all of the details surrounding this event, but we are seeking to do so as quickly as possible.
This morning I met with Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo and University Police Chief Mike Gibson in an effort to learn more about the incident. Furthermore, because ABC is a state agency, I contacted the Governor's office to ask for an independent investigation of the incident. In response, the Governor has asked the Secretary of Public Safety to initiate an independent Virginia State Police investigation into the use of force in this matter.
As the investigation unfolds, eyewitnesses will play an essential role in shedding light on the details of this incident. I urge students and other members of our community who witnessed the incident or have other direct knowledge of it to come forward. Please contact the Virginia State Police at 804-674-2000 immediately.
The safety and security of our students will always be my primary concern, and every member of our community should feel safe from the threat of bodily harm and other forms of violence. Today, as U.Va. students, faculty, and staff who share a set of deeply held values, we stand unified in our commitment to seeking the truth about this incident. And we stand united in our belief that equal treatment and equal justice are among our fundamental rights under the law.
Teresa A. Sullivan