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ABC asks state police to probe arrest over bottled water

ABC asks state police to probe arrest over bottled water

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CHARLOTTESVILLE -- The state Alcoholic Beverage Control’s top official said he has asked Virginia State Police to conduct an administrative review of the arrest of a 20-year-old University of Virginia student who was carrying bottled water that officers thought was beer.

“Once the charges were nolle prossed, I immediately directed the internal review of the circumstances leading up to the young lady’s arrest,” ABC Chairman J. Neal Insley stated late Monday.

“Last week, after consultation with the Secretary of Public Safety, and with her concurrence, I requested the assistance of an impartial third party, the Virginia State Police. I asked them to look into the matter and they agreed to conduct an independent administrative review of the facts surrounding the incident.”

“As agency head, I take personal responsibility in making sure all facts of the case are fully evaluated and our department is held to the high standards of service the Commonwealth expects and demands of us,” he said.

The agency has not responded to questions asking whether the results of the review will be made public.

In another development, the Charlottesville City Council sent a letter to Gov. Bob McDonnell on Monday requesting an independent review of the April 11 arrest of Elizabeth Daly of Henrico County.

ABC agents arrested Daly, 20, after mistaking a case of sparkling water for beer as she walked from the Harris Teeter grocery store at the Barracks Road Shopping Center. Daly said she could not tell if the plainclothes agents who approached her SUV in the darkened parking lot were law enforcement officers.

She and her roommates say they panicked, dialed 911 and tried to drive to a police station. One of the six agents who had surrounded the SUV in the Barracks Road Shopping Center drew his gun as the situation escalated, the women and ABC said.

Daly grazed two agents with her SUV as she attempted to flee, court records state, but there were no injuries. Authorities charged her with two felony counts of assaulting a law enforcement officer and one felony count of eluding police. She spent a night and afternoon in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail. Charlottesville prosecutors withdrew the charges June 27.

Neither McDonnell's office nor the office of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli responded to requests for comment.

In the letter, the City Council said agents should have been more careful when approaching Daly and two sorority roommates.

"Although the Council appreciates the difficult work of ABC, it is our impression that the incident could have been avoided and the situation diffused if the agents had taken a different approach," the letter states.

The letter requests more cooperation between ABC and the Charlottesville Police Department.

"We realize ABC agents have historically worked closely with our officers, but in the case of this incident our department was not involved until we received the call for service from one of the young ladies targeted by the agents," the letter states.

Charlottesville police Lt. Ronnie Roberts said Monday city police did not know ahead of time that ABC agents would be at the Harris Teeter.

"They did not notify us that they were doing the project," he said. "It is not uncommon that if a state agency was working in our area we wouldn't know about it."

Charlottesville Mayor Satyendra Huja, who signed the letter, said the firestorm of protest that has surrounded ABC prompted the council to weigh in.

"I think ABC did not act properly in my mind, and it would have been better if they had cooperated with our police department," he said. "We have gotten a lot of outrage, I guess, about how this happened, and unfortunately, it was something that city police did not know about."

City Councilor Dave Norris said he hopes the letter will help rein in ABC and prevent similar incidents in the future.

"An investigation is for everyone's best interest, and it is for ABC's best interest," he said. "This garnered national attention and raised some really troubling questions about overzealous law enforcement and use of force."

Charlottesville attorney and civil liberties advocate John Whitehead called on the City Council to condemn the incident last week.

In a letter read at the council’s July 1 meeting, Whitehead asked the council to "publicly condemn the actions that took place this past April, and to take steps toward de-militarizing the local police and ABC forces to prevent such actions from ever occurring again."

Del. David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville, sent a letter this week to ABC asking to be informed of the outcome of the agency's internal review of the incident. Toscano said he is waiting on those results before making further comment.

Secretary of Public Safety Marla Decker, a member of McDonnell’s cabinet, has spoken with ABC leaders about the incident, is monitoring the situation and is awaiting the outcome of the agency review, the governor’s office has said.

"I think that some form of an investigation is appropriate, and the ABC is doing that," Toscano said. "Clearly, there were errors made ... but whether a review is done by the public safety committee or the governor's office, I think we need to take it one step at a time."

A day after Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman dropped all charges against Daly, ABC announced it would conduct a second internal review. An earlier review found no wrongdoing by the agents, ABC said.

ABC on Friday announced an “immediate change” in practice to require that a uniformed officer be on hand for operations like the one that landed Daly in jail. That agent, who will wear a utility belt along with an “overgarment” emblazoned with the word “Police” in white letters, will act as a “contact person” during operations, ABC said.

ABC policies released Monday dictate that an agent may only draw his or her weapon "when circumstances cause the agent to reasonably believe that it may be necessary to use the weapon."

Updated in 2007, the agency’s use-of-force policy advises agents not to discharge weapons at a moving vehicle unless "a person in the vehicle poses an immediate threat to the agent or another person with the use of deadly force by means other than the vehicle."

The policy states "an agent threatened by an oncoming vehicle should move out of its path instead of discharging a firearm at it or any of its occupants."

Agents positioned themselves near the front of Daly's SUV and one ended up on the hood as she maneuvered to get away, according to a criminal complaint.

Daly said she and roommates were “terrified.” The three women said agents yelled at them to get out of the car, banged on the windows and pulled at the door handles. When one of the agents drew a gun, Daly said, “Our panic heightened.” All of the women described the agents as confrontational.

ABC’s policies include a 26-page code of conduct. Item No. 33 is listed under the heading, “Courtesy.”

“Employees shall be tactful in the performance of their duties, shall control their tempers, and exercise the utmost patience and discretion,” the policy says. That section notes in italic type: “More citizen complaints result from police discourtesy than almost any other cause... In the performance of their duties, employees must maintain a neutral and detached attitude.”

The incident, which unfolded in a matter of minutes, ended when a 911 dispatcher told the women their pursuers were law enforcement officers. Daly apologized repeatedly to the agents after they pulled her over blocks from the shopping center, court records state.

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