Alum Martese Johnson Settles with Virginia ABC for $250K

Martese Johnson
Martese Johnson
Photo by Magdeldin Hamid

Martese Johnson, a 2016 graduate of the University, has settled his lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) for $249,950. In March 2015, liquor control agents threw the then-20-year-old onto the sidewalk outside of Trinity Irish Pub, leaving him bloodied and handcuffed on the ground. Images of the violent arrest went viral and sparked outrage from the University community.

Following his arrest, all charges against Johnson were dismissed. He originally sought $3 million in damages from the ABC for what he described as a violation of his civil rights, but agreed to a settlement in order to avoid the costs and risks of continuing the lawsuit.

According to a joint statement on the ABC’s website, the settlement is “a mutually agreeable compromise and resolution of the lawsuit,” asserting that “the interests of justice and the long term interests of the community are best served…by taking the events as an opportunity to educate the public and foster constructive dialogue between ordinary citizens, law enforcement officers, and public officials concerning police and citizen relationships in a diverse community.”

Johnson’s attorney, Daniel Watkins, provided an account of the dispute in March 2015. Watkins told reporters that trouble began when ABC agents questioned Johnson about his identification, which they assumed was false, after he was turned away at the door of Trinity Irish Pub on St. Patrick’s Day.

“Just before handcuffing him, police took Martese to the ground, striking his head on the pavement and causing him to bleed profusely from the gash on his head,” Watkins said. “This morning, he received ten stitches at the University of Virginia Medical Center.”

Martese Johnson
Martese Johnson on the night of his arrest

When images of Johnson’s injuries circulated on the internet, they contributed to a larger, national debate on race and police brutality. Then-Virginia-governor Terry McAuliffe called for an independent investigation by state police to determine whether the liquor control agents in question used excessive force. Charlottesville criminal investigators found no evidence of malice by the agents, and they were not charged with any crime.

At the time of his arrest, Johnson was a third-year student in the College of Arts and Sciences, double-majoring in Italian and Media Studies. He was active in student life as a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, an executive board member in the Black Student Alliance, a participant in the Peer Advisor program, and a vice chair of the University Honor Committee.

“As evidenced by both his academic and extracurricular achievements, Martese is a smart young man with a bright future,” Watkins said. “Please keep Martese in your prayers during this difficult time.”

Since graduation from the University, Johnson has moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he has worked both as a volunteer for the Obama Foundation and as a Student Development Coordinator in a local charter school. In the fall, Johnson plans to attend law school at the University of Michigan.

To read Johnson’s open letter to the University’s Class of 2021, click here.  


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