University of Virginia student Martese Johnson's bloody arrest sparks protests

University of Virginia student Martese Johnson's bloody arrest sparks protests
In Charlottesville, Va., people protest the arrest of student Martese Johnson outside a bar. (Andrew Shurtleff / Daily Progress)

Following a night of heated protests, officials in Charlottesville, Va., on Thursday scrambled to defuse the anger sparked by the arrest of a black University of Virginia student outside a bar.

Martese Johnson, 20, had just been denied entry into a bar near the University of Virginia campus early Wednesday when he was questioned by agents with the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the agency said.


Johnson's attorney said during his client's arrest he was thrown to the ground and hit his head on the pavement, gushing blood and requiring stitches.

Johnson was charged with two counts: obstruction of justice without force and public swearing or intoxication.

University President Teresa A. Sullivan has "deep concern" over the incident.

"Those unfortunate events have the potential to be detrimental to our department's relationship with the citizens," Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy J. Longo said in a statement Thursday.

Charlottesville police were not present during the arrest, but Longo said he met with student leaders regarding his "personal commitment and the commitment of the Charlottesville Police Department to continue to work diligently to preserve the positive relationships we have worked so hard to build."

Charlottesville Mayor Satyendra Singh Huja said she "shares the concerns" of community members regarding the actions of the agents and urged residents to be patient while the investigation is completed.

On Wednesday night, about 1,000 students rallied on campus to march and protest Johnson's arrest, the Associated Press reported, demanding justice for Johnson and, at one point, blocking some streets.

In a news conference Thursday, Johnson's attorney called him an "upstanding young man" and a scholarship student with "no criminal record whatsoever."

"As the officers held me down, one thought raced through my mind: How could this happen?" Johnson said in a statement read by his attorney, Daniel Watkins.

Johnson said his head was "bloody but unbowed."

"The trauma from what the ABC officers did yesterday will stay with me forever," Johnson said. "I believe we as a community are better than this."

Watkins vowed to contest the charges.

"Martese has worked hard to ensure his bright future," he said, "and we intend to fight the criminal charges against him with the utmost vigor."

Watkins also said that despite media reports claiming Johnson had furnished a fake ID, the student supplied a "valid Illinois state identification card issued in 2011" when an employee at the bar asked him for one.


Under Virginia law, it is illegal for any person under the age of 21 to purchase, possess or attempt to purchase or possess any alcoholic beverage.

State police are investigating, at the request of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

The agents involved in the arrest have been placed on administrative duties while the investigation continues.

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