World & Nation

Virginia governor orders inquiry after black student is arrested and bloodied

Martese Johnson
In this photo taken by a bystander, University of Virginia student Martese Johnson, 20, is held down during a confrontation with state Alcoholic Beverage Control officers near the campus in Charlottesville on March 18.
(Bryan Beaubrun)

Virginia’s governor has ordered an investigation into a black University of Virginia student’s arrest after photos and video of the student’s bloodied face went viral on social media.

In a video taken outside a popular bar in Charlottesville early Wednesday, the bloodied student can be heard calling the white officers arresting him “racists” and asking, “How did this happen?”

In a matter of hours, the arrest became the latest racially charged campus incident to prompt public outrage and a speedy reaction from jolted public officials.

Martese Johnson, 20, a junior majoring in Italian and media studies, had no criminal record before he was arrested outside the bar and charged with public intoxication and obstruction of justice, according to his attorney, Daniel P. Watkins.


Agents with Virginia’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control had confronted Johnson outside the bar after he was denied entry and decided to detain him, which is when he was injured, according to a statement from the department, not elaborating further.

“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,” Watkins said in a statement, adding that contrary to early reports, Johnson was not accused of having false identification.

“This morning he received 10 stitches at the University of Virginia Medical Center,” Watkins said. “Fortunately, Martese’s physical wounds are beginning to heal.”

Video of the incident and photos of Johnson’s bloodied face spread widely over social media Wednesday.


“I go to UVA!” Johnson, who is on the ground, can be seen shouting at the white officers arresting him. (Warning: The video contains obscenities.)

“It happened so quickly,” one witness, Bryan Beaubrun, told the Cavalier Daily. “Out of nowhere I saw the two officers wrestling Martese to the ground. I was shocked that it escalated that quickly. Eventually [he was] on the ground, they’re trying to put handcuffs on him and their knees were on his back.”

University President Teresa A. Sullivan said in a statement that she had “deep concern” over the incident and called for an independent investigation.

Sullivan added: “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.”

Two prominent black officials on campus, Marcus L. Martin, a vice president for diversity and a professor of emergency medicine, and Maurice Apprey, a dean of African American affairs and a professor of psychiatry, condemned the arrest as an act of police brutality.

“This was wrong and should not have occurred,” the pair said in a statement. “In the many years of our medical, professional and leadership roles at the university, we view the nature of this assault as highly unusual and appalling based on the information we have received.”

The Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control said the officers involved had been placed on administrative duty while the Virginia State Police, on the orders of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, conducted an investigation.

“Martese is a smart young man with a bright future,” Watkins, the defense attorney, said in a statement, adding that Johnson and his family were requesting privacy.


Watkins described Johnson as “absolutely devastated” by the incident, adding, “Currently, we are preparing to investigate and defend this matter vigorously.”

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