Legislation proposes to remove ABC's law enforcement powers

Bill previously proposed in Virginia House, Senate

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Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds has introduced three proposal to review the ABC in the past three years.

Marshall Bronfin | Cavalier Daily

Legislation to remove law enforcement powers from the ABC has received renewed attention following questions of excessive force in the arrest of third-year College student Martese Johnson by Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control agents early Wednesday morning.

The legislation was previously proposed by State Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath.

Deeds said he has proposed this piece of legislation at each session for the past three years. The bill would mandate a review of the organization’s law enforcement abilities by a Commonwealth commission.

The legislation has failed with each proposal. This year was the first that Deeds was able to push the bill through the Senate and into the House, where it was killed in a subcommittee, Deeds said.

“What I’ve proposed in the past ... is legislation that basically would require a review commission to study the idea of putting the law enforcement authority over to the state police,” Deeds said. “It would raise professionalism and accountability, and it would also create efficiencies of scale.”

Deeds said taking law enforcement abilities away from ABC and other non-state-police organizations would prevent the questionable actions taken by ABC in the past couple of years.

“There’s been two instances in the past two years of overreach of law enforcement officers with ABC in Charlottesville — that’s disturbing to me,” Deeds said. “Our department of state police is one of the finest state law enforcement agencies in the country — their integrity, to a large degree, is beyond reproach.”

Following Johnson’s arrest and subsequent hospitalization, University President Teresa Sullivan called for a state investigation of the ABC officers’ use of force. As announced by the office of Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the state of Virginia is proceeding with both an administrative review and a criminal investigation.

Deeds said the details of the situation remain unclear.

“I’m disturbed and sickened, frankly, about the pictures and the video,” Deeds said. “I can’t imagine what justification there was for that sort of force. I’m really anxious to look at all the facts, and there’s an investigation.”

Johnson’s attorney has said that there was no fake identification involved, heightening the controversy over the actions of the ABC officers and the reason for Johnson’s arrest.

“There’s no evidence to suggest that this young man is anything but an upstanding guy who’s worked hard at the University, done very well, a good kid,” Deeds said. “It’s difficult for me to understand what was the justification for force the other night.”

Deeds said he thought both the investigation and any future legislation removing the law enforcement power of ABC officers would take time. Because legislation cannot be proposed until the Jan. 2016 session of the Virginia General Assembly, he said there is a fear that this issue will lose its potency.

“It’s difficult to know what the issue du jour will be in January, whether this will still have currency,” Deeds said. “But I think a whole lot of people are paying attention to what’s going on in Charlottesville, what went on the other night, and I’m happy that the Governor is taking this seriously.”

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