Del. Toscano introduces ABC restrictions bill
Following April incident, Virginia delegate calls for agency weapons reforms
Virginia Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, introduced two bills on Jan. 8 intended to regulate the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Agency in response to an altercation between several ABC officers and third-year College student Elizabeth Daly on April 11.
The undercover ABC officers mistook a case of water in the backseat of Daly’s car to be a case of beer, and when she refused to exit the car, they drew weapons, jumped on the hood of the car and attempted to break the car’s windows. Unaware the men were licensed agents, Daly attempted to drive away, grazing two officers in the process. She was subsequently arrested and spent the night in jail for assaulting officers and eluding police.
The charges were dropped in June and Daly’s record was expunged in October.
The two reform bills were proposed by Toscano just days after Daly filed a notice of a claim against the state. Daly’s lawyer, James Thorsen, will attempt to negotiate a monetary settlement. If the claim is denied, Daly can file a civil lawsuit within six months under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
Since the April incident, many have called for reforms to the ABC agency. John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, a Charlottesville-based civil rights organization, suggested a review board to oversee the ABC and a training program for ABC officers with an emphasis on constitutional rights.
“They don’t really train these agents in constitutional law and how to respect and treat American citizens,” Whitehead said. “They need effective training.”
The ABC has already addressed the incident by instituting several reforms, including the requirement that one uniformed officer be present in future undercover operations.
Toscano’s bills would take reform a step further by legally addressing concerns about the agency.
The bill would prohibit “ABC special agents from using or threatening to use deadly force in the arrest or detention of a person suspected of underage possession of alcohol, unless the agent has a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury.” The use of a weapon in the Daly incident led many to question why an ABC officer would ever require deadly force in an attempt to regulate the purchase of alcoholic beverages.
Toscano also introduced a House resolution which encourages the ABC to observe agency policies and ensure constitutional rights are respected in all interactions with the public.
“Like many people in our area, I was very troubled by what happened at that grocery store last spring,” Toscano said. “I’m hoping that [the bills] will send a clear message to the ABC that we do not support that kind of action.”
Whitehead does not see a legitimate reason for ABC agents to be armed at all.
“I don’t think you need these guys running around with guns,” he said. “A better step is to disarm them.”
Toscano said ABC officers should be armed in the case of large-scale criminal activity, but in general the use of weapons should be limited.
“There are certain situations for agents to be armed,” Toscano said. “When we talk about youngsters trying to buy a six-pack of beer the threats to the agents are minimal and they can probably accomplish their task without using weapons.”
Toscano intends for the legislature to formally instruct the ABC to reform their practices, but it is up to the ABC to determine how new guidelines are implemented.
“I do not want to get into the business of micromanaging a state agency so the protocols would have to be prepared by the agency itself,” he said.