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Prosecutor Discusses Evidence in Martese Johnson Arrest

Posted: Updated: Jun 17, 2015 06:58 PM
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

Details were released Wednesday about the arrest that left University of Virginia student Martese Johnson bloodied and prompted a public uproar.

Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman held a news conference to discuss evidence in Johnson's case at Charlottesville City Hall.

Chapman spelled out in great detail the evidence collected from Johnson's controversial arrest outside Trinity Irish Pub in March. He laid out the case from start to finish, explaining why he dropped two misdemeanor charges against Johnson and chose not to prosecute the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) agents who arrested him.

Chapman says three factors played into his decision to dismiss the charges, but public pressure was not one of them. He said he dropped the charges because Johnson was not committing a crime, he received an injury during the arrest and he was jailed overnight.

"It is not as a result of the publicity. It's not as a result of the pressure. This is what we do," Chapman stated.

Chapman was quick to defend the ABC officers, saying he found no evidence that any officers committed a crime in the arrest. He said the detention was justified after a bar owner who checked Johnson's ID turned him away. The ABC officers suspected Johnson of having a fake ID, but in the end he didn't. Chapman said the officers had reasonable suspicion to stop Johnson and he could have prosecuted Johnson for resisting arrest.

Photos and video of Johnson pinned to the ground and bleeding circulated widely on social media in March. Johnson, who is black, could be heard on the video recordings calling the officers racist. In a one-on-one interview, Johnson told NBC29 he believes race was a factor in his arrest.

Chapman said he would not have hesitated to charge any of the three state ABC agents involved had he believed the incident was malicious or racially motivated.

Surveillance video taken from a police substation shows the brief interaction between Martese Johnson and three ABC agents. But the clip is missing six seconds due to a system glitch. "The administrator of that system can look at this video and tell us that this has not been manipulated or altered," Chapman said.

Chapman also announced Johnson was under the influence as he was handcuffed, though a blood alcohol content test was never done. "All we had to go on was various reports by people of what was consumed where and what seemed to be the effects noticed," he stated.

During our one-on-one interview with Johnson last Friday, we asked if he was drinking that night. His attorney, Daniel Watkins, answered: "I've asked him not to expose himself to - excuse me - answer questions regarding allegations of criminal conduct."

Chapman says he hopes this case can serve as a learning moment for the community. "You do not have a right to resist. Do not resist. Please do not resist. We will figure it out at court."

He also made a plea for all law enforcement to have body cameras. He says some fundamental changes need to happen in the policies of agencies on when to pursue a subject and when to just let them go.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe ordered a state police investigation. He also ordered retraining of ABC law enforcement agencies and appointed a panel to review the agency's practices.

Johnson had said he would attend Wednesday's presentation but did not attend. In a statement, his attorney cited a scheduling conflict (see below).

The Associated Press contributed to this article.


Daniel Watkins Statement: 

"Only six days after the prosecution asked Judge Downer to dismiss the charges against Martese Johnson, Commonwealth's Attorney for the City of Charlottesville Dave Chapman presented the results of the Virginia State Police investigation at City Hall in a session open to the public that lasted more than two hours. Although Mr. Johnson initially intended to be present, a scheduling conflict precluded him from attending.

This afternoon, prosecutors indicated that Mr. Johnson “was not in fact committing a criminal offense” when the police approached him on March 18, 2015. Nevertheless, images clearly reflect what next occurred: a young man of eminent abilities, industry, and popularity was slammed to the ground, substantially injured, jailed, and subsequently arrested for two misdemeanors. Our position is and always has been that police lacked justification to seize Mr. Johnson.

At the beginning of the investigation, Mr. Johnson fully cooperated with the Virginia State Police and answered questions from regarding the incident. In contrast, Officers Miller, Custer, and Thomas issued police reports the night of the arrest but each of the men declined to participate in the investigation.

After reviewing the State Police investigation report, Mr. Chapman declined to prosecute Mr. Johnson. We are thankful that the criminal prosecution against Mr. Johnson has been terminated and he is excited today to celebrate his 21st birthday in a safe and responsible manner."

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