UVA Student Martese Johnson Files $3M Civil Suit Against ABC
Martese Johnson, the University of Virginia student at the center of a controversial arrest, is filing a lawsuit against the Alcoholic Beverage Control.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The University of Virginia student at the center of a controversial arrest is filing a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC).
Martese Johnson’s legal team filed a 22-page civil suit against the ABC in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia on Tuesday, October 20.
Johnson is suing the ABC, ABC Director Shawn P. Walker, and the three ABC agents involved in his arrest: John S. Cielakie, Jared B. Miller, and Thomas S. Custer.
Johnson’s seven-count lawsuit claims his civil rights were abused, labeling the late night encounter with ABC agents as assault and battery. The counts also include excessive force, false arrest, negligence, and failure to train.
Johnson is seeking $3 million in damages.
"This is a significant case. It presents important issues and we look forward to litigating it and seeing how everything turns out," said Daniel Watkins, Johnson’s attorney.
The Virginia State Police (VSP) investigation into Johnson's arrest was completed in April, and turned over to Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman.
Watkins filed a motion in Charlottesville General District Court in late May, saying ABC officers lacked reasonable suspicion to make the arrest. The attorney says one of the ABC agents grabbed Johnson's elbow as he walked away. Johnson pulled his arm away and that's when two agents slammed him to the ground. The cut on his head required 10 stitches.
In June, Charlottesville General District Court Judge Robert Downer, Jr. dismissed two misdemeanor counts against Johnson at Chapman's request. Chapman issued a press release saying that his office would not seek prosecution in the case. Additionally, he said the commonwealth has no intention of pressing criminal charges against the ABC agents involved in the arrest.
"Most of the time the case is settled, and obviously it's not in anybody's best interest to air all the dirty linen in public," said legal analyst Lloyd Snook.
NBC29 asked Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) about Johnson’s civil case because his office would represent the state agency and its employees. Herring stated, "I haven't had an opportunity to review the suit papers, so unfortunately I'm not able to comment yet on that."
Former UVA student Elizabeth Daly also sued the Virginia ABC following her controversial arrest outside the Harris Teeter store in Charlottesville.
Plain-clothed ABC agents converged on Daly as she was leaving the store in April 2013. The agents thought the sparkling water she had was alcohol.
Watkins says one of the officers involved in Johnson’s arrest also participated in Daly's incident. John Cielakie was one of the three ABC agents seen in cellphone video of Johnson's arrest. NBC29 could not verify which agent is Cielakie, although the ABC says he began work there in August 2012.
According to court documents, Cielakie attempted to break the passenger window of a vehicle driven by Daly with his steel flashlight, causing a loud bang. It was at that point, the lawsuit claims, Daly feared for her life and drove off.
Daly was seeking $40 million at the time, but settled for more than $200,000 last year.