A Charlottesville-based civil liberties group is calling on representatives in the General Assembly to take more action following a Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control raid in April.
The case of University of Virginia student Elizabeth Daly, 20, has sparked national attention. Virginia's ABC has been under fire after a group of undercover agents targeted Daly and her roommates at the Harris Teeter parking lot in the Barracks Road Shopping Center. The agents mistook a crate of sparkling water they purchased as a 12-pack of beer.
ABC announced a policy change late Friday in response to criticism following the incident, but the Rutherford Institute says it's not really a change at all.
The Rutherford Institute released an eight-page letter Monday morning addressed to members of the House Police, Militia, and Public Safety Committee.
The document outlines details of the April 11 incident where Daly was arrested and charged with three felony counts - assault and battery of two law enforcement officer and eluding police. Those charges were dropped on Thursday, June 27.
Rutherford Institute President John Whitehead claims Virginia ABC agents violated the Constitution during the incident.
"I felt I needed to send a detailed account basically of the law, especially after I saw the response by the ABC on this issue, where they use phrases like reasonable suspicion," he said.
Whitehead says the officers acted upon reasonable suspicion when they needed a probable cause.
"Probable cause means you got to have some kind of facts that somebody is doing something illegal," he said. "They were doing a two-day sting here, supposedly, arresting numerous people. So they didn't have any evidence. Obviously, if you see the Daly case, they had absolutely no evidence."
57th District Delegate David Toscano (D) said, "Once people leave the store itself and you can't identify what they actually purchased - should you even approach them at all? You ought to have some kind of probable cause to stop somebody and detain them."
Whitehead released the letter urging the General Assembly to push for agents to be better trained on constitutional rights and to call for the launch of a formal investigation of the officers involved. Toscano is one of the document's recipients.
"I think it raises some questions about the approach the agents were taking in this incident and what approaches they need to take in the future," said Toscano.
The Rutherford Institute is now calling for officers to be retrained.
"One of the interesting things in the statement from ABC was this would not have happened if the girl complied. Well, these are girls that were frightened. A. They were unconstitutionally and aggressively approached by men in the dark. They're supposed to comply with what we could call thugs, and that's how they operated that night. So, that's why retraining and investigation is essentially needed," Whitehead said.
The Virginia Department of ABC told NBC29 the following in regards to officer training:
"Law enforcement officer certification typically consists of three components – a classroom curriculum, a comprehensive test and successful completion of a field training program. The 23- to 25-week classroom curriculum includes subjects such as search and seizure, laws of arrest, use of force, vehicle operations, criminal investigations and firearms training. ABC's field training program, the last of the three training components, consists of 12 weeks where the agent works under the supervision of a Field Training Agent (FTA)."
But both Toscano and Whitehead believe something needs to change.
Toscano said, "At the end, there will be some new protocols hopefully and new procedures put in place to protect people from unreasonable searches and seizures that might have occurred in this case."
"This whole issue needs to be reexamined," Whitehead said. "We have a General Assembly, our representatives need to take charge of this thing and correct it. It should not have gone this far."
The Rutherford Institute had released a letter last week urging local government to investigate the incident further. Charlottesville City Councilor Dave Norris announced Monday:
"Charlottesville City Council today sent a letter to Governor Robert McDonnell and the Police, Militia and Public Safety Committee of the Virginia House of Delegates, requesting an independent, public investigation of the troubling incident this April involving ABC agents at Barracks Road Shopping Center that has raised so many questions about use of force and overzealous law enforcement. The letter also asks for better cooperation in the future between the ABC and local police, given the fact that the Charlottesville Police Department was not informed that an ABC sting operation was underway in the City that night."
Organizers of a petition calling for ABC to apologize have also released statement saying the agency's policy change to have one uniformed officer during undercover operations was inadequate. They emphasize that decisive action is needed.
The Rutherford Institute
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. —John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, is calling on members of the Virginia General Assembly to launch a formal investigation into an April 2013 incident in which a University of Virginia student was targeted and terrorized by Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control agents after she purchased sparkling water at a grocery store. Elizabeth Daly was eventually jailed for daring to evade her accosters, who failed to identify themselves or approach her in a non-threatening manner. Warning that a slap on the wrist to the ABC agents involved and a superficial policy change intended to mollify an outraged public will do little to address the underlying causes of such clearly systemic problems within the ranks of law enforcement, Whitehead has asked the General Assembly to push back against the growing menace of militarized police forces which have in recent years become increasingly aggressive towards non-violent criminal suspects and law-abiding citizens going about their daily business.
"Due in large part to the militarization of the police and the equipping of other government agencies with weaponry, we are moving into a culture in which law enforcement agencies have developed a sense of entitlement that is at odds with the spirit of our Constitution—in particular, the Fourth Amendment," said Whitehead, who addresses these very issues in his new book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State (SelectBooks, 2013). "These are not isolated overreactions on the part of rogue officers. Rather, they are emblematic of a growing tension over the use of militarized police to perform relatively routine tasks, resulting in situations fraught with danger to both civilians and police alike. What's more, Americans should be concerned about whatever factors are contributing to a seemingly ‘trigger happy' tendency on the part of some law enforcement officials, whether it's an arsenal of militarized weapons and an increasing reliance on lethal weapons or insufficient training in nonviolent conflict resolution."
On April 11, 2013, after leaving the Harris Teeter grocery store in Charlottesville, Va., Elizabeth Daly, a young college student at the University of Virginia, was accosted by a man and woman in street clothes, who began knocking on her car windows. The man yanked at the door handle, banged on the window and yelled at the women to exit the vehicle. Other men circled the car, one drew a gun while yet another jumped onto the hood of the car. Justifiably terrified, Daly and her two friends attempted to flee the parking lot to safety in her SUV, immediately calling 911 for help. It wasn't until police arrived with flashing sirens and lights that Elizabeth finally learned the identity of her attackers, Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Enforcement Officers, who suspected them of purchasing alcohol. Despite the fact that the girls' "suspected" contraband turned out to be cans of LaCroix sparkling water, Elizabeth was arrested, jailed and charged with three felonies. Citing this and other incidents, Whitehead makes the case to the Virginia General Assembly that incidents like Daly's are becoming all too familiar in cities and towns across the country. Whitehead has asked the House Police, Militia and Public Safety Committee to ensure that ABC agents are operating within the parameters of the Constitution, abiding by the higher standard of probable cause (as opposed to the lesser standard of reasonable suspicion) when carrying out investigations, acting as public servants in service to the taxpayers rather than commanders directing underlings who must obey without question, and are properly trained in how to handle encounters with civilians without resorting to intimidation tactics, overt aggression and threats of violence.
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