Rutherford Institute Reacts to ABC Policy Change, Demands Action

Posted: Updated: Jul 20, 2013 07:24 PM

A Charlottesville-based civil liberties group is demanding the state take action in response to a raid by Alcoholic Beverage Control agents that targeted a University of Virginia student they thought was illegally buying beer.  It turned out the case was just sparkling water.

ABC announced a policy change late Friday in response to criticism following an incident involving UVA students in April. 

Now the Rutherford Institute says more needs to be done.  The organization released a letter this past week urging local government to investigate the incident further.

"Imagine a group of wolves attacking somebody," said John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute.  "Now one of the wolves will have a uniform on. That doesn't really change things."

Whitehead says the Virginia Department of ABC needs to retrain its agents to prevent incidents like the one in April.  UVA student Elizabeth Daly was arrested and charged with three felony counts after a situation that started with undercover ABC agents mistaking her case of sparkling water for beer.

"The way that these so-called police rushed American citizens really bothered me – in the dark of night, pulling guns, screaming and yelling. That was very troublesome," he said.  "By having a uniform policeman somewhere in the group, still rushing American citizens aggressively with guns is not going to work."

Click here to hear the 911 call recorded from the night of the incident.

ABC released a statement late Friday - announcing an immediate change in practice to include "at least one ABC Agent in a police uniform to act as a contact person once the plain clothes agent has developed reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause to approach individual(s) they believe have violated the law."

"Their statement A - doesn't really change the rules and two - what they're saying violates the constitution," said Whitehead.

He says these officers need to be better trained on constitutional rights.

"The training should be you don't approach American citizens unless you have evidence that they're doing something wrong," he said. "You have to have evidence, not reasonable suspicion because I can suspect people of anything."

Whitehead believes it's an issue that could have serious consequences if action isn't taken soon.

"What I'm really afraid of if they don't retrain these officers on the Constitution and how they approach American citizens, someone's going to get killed and a citizen is going to get shot," he said.

The Rutherford Institute is planning to call on the governor and ABC to train agents properly.  The organization says it is drafting a statement to be released on Monday.

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