Gilbert seeks release of student’s arrest report

Todd Gilbert

Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, and another Republican legislator want Gov. Terry McAuliffe to make public a report of a violent encounter earlier this year between a University of Virginia student and state alcohol control agents.

The contents of the report have remained secret since its completion.

McAuliffe, a Democrat, ordered the state police to investigate the arrest of Martese Johnson by enforcement members of the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Johnson, who had been trying to enter an off campus bar, ended up handcuffed on the pavement with a head wound that required 10 stitches to close.

The ABC declared in August that the three agents, all white, were cleared of accusations of excessive use of force, but the controversy has continued to fester in the midst of national tensions between law enforcement officials and members of racial minorities. Johnson is black.

In an earlier incident, a white UVA student sued the ABC after one of several plainclothes agents pulled a gun on her in a supermarket parking lot. The agent and five colleagues suspected her of carrying a case of beer, but the merchandise turned out to be sparkling water.

Gilbert said the report on the Johnson case should be released to help state officials determine what, if any, changes, are needed at the ABC. McAuliffe has ordered ABC agents to undergo retraining in the use of force and cultural diversity.

“We think the public has a right to know what transpired,” Gilbert said of Johnson’s arrest. “If it was as they say, then it is in ABC’s interest to be vindicated publicly, and we should know that too before people start calling for sweeping changes.”

Gilbert is chairman of the House of Delegates General Laws Committee, which oversees the ABC. Another lawmaker, Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, is also calling for release of the report. Wagner’s committee has responsibility for the ABC in the Senate.

Wagner and Gilbert are planning to conduct a joint hearing of their committees to prod McAuliffe to release the report.

“We’re still coordinating with the House and Senate members, so we don’t have a date yet,” Gilbert said, adding that he hoped the hearing can be scheduled for October.

A telephone message to the governor’s communication office seeking comment about the ABC report was not returned.

The Washington Post reported earlier that Brian Moran, McAuliffe’s secretary of public safety and homeland security, cited lawyers’ recommendation as his reason for not releasing the report. Specifically, Moran said the report contained personnel information that could be involved in a future lawsuit.

Gilbert said Moran’s reasoning would allow government officials to withhold any document from public view if it so much as mentioned the name of an official.

“That’s a ridiculous reading of the Freedom of the Information Act and its intentions,” Gilbert said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com