Martese Johnson, Virginia student bloodied in arrest, won’t face charges


A Virginia commonwealth’s attorney dropped charges Thursday against a University of Virginia student whose bloody arrest outside a Charlottesville bar sparked outrage and protests.

Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Atty. David Chapman said in a statement that charges had been dropped against Martese Johnson after officials reviewed evidence from “a thorough and independent criminal investigation conducted by the Virginia State Police.”

Johnson’s attorney, Daniel P. Watkins, told the Associated Press that his client was “overjoyed” by the news.


“It’s been our position all along that police lacked justification to arrest and detain Martese,” Watkins told the AP. “It’s been stressful facing criminal prosecution. He’s glad to put this behind him.”

Watkins could not be reached for comment.

Chapman also said that “evidence did not warrant” charges against the state’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control agents involved in the arrest.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe ordered an administrative investigation of the agents’ conduct after Johnson’s arrest sparked protests. The arrest March 18 fueled an already intense national conversation on race and use of force by police, which included the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man in Ferguson, Mo., last August and the death of Eric Garner, who was placed in a chokehold by police in New York City last July.

The investigation ordered by McAuliffe is still underway, Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said.

The ABC agents involved in Johnson’s arrest remain on restricted administrative duty while the agency awaits the findings of that investigation, the agency said in a statement.

“Virginia ABC respects today’s decision of the Charlottesville commonwealth’s attorney to not pursue the charges of public swearing/intoxication and obstruction of justice without force against University of Virginia student Martese Johnson, and to not charge the ABC special agents involved in his arrest,” it said.


Since the arrest, McAuliffe has signed an executive order requiring all of the state’s ABC agents to undergo training on use-of-force policy and community policing.

Johnson, a Chicago native, clashed with the agents after he was denied entry to a bar near the Charlottesville campus. His attorney has said Johnson’s head struck the pavement after ABC agents threw him to the ground, opening a gash on his forehead.

After the arrest, images surfaced of Johnson’s face covered with blood. In a video, the bloodied student, who is black, could be heard calling the white officers arresting him “racists” and asking, “How did this happen?”

Johnson was charged with public intoxication and obstruction of justice, both misdemeanor offenses.

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