Martese Johnson lawsuit likely to proceed

$3 million suit could move forward based on excessive force claims, judge says

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Johnson's March 2015 arrest on the Corner led to his lawsuit. 

John Pappas | Cavalier Daily

University graduate Martese Johnson’s lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control will likely continue, a judge in his case announced Aug. 26.

U.S. District Court Judge Glen Conrad indicated one count of use of excessive force in Johnson’s March 2015 arrest is expected to go to trial.

The announcement followed a motion to dismiss Johnson’s lawsuit filed in June by the defendants Jared Miller, Thomas Custer, John Cielakie and ABC Director Shawn Walker. The motion argues the officers did what any other ABC agent would have done in the situation and did not violate Johnson’s rights during his arrest.

“The facts and circumstances prove that the Agents had reasonable suspicion and more than arguable probable cause to stop and arrest the plaintiff,” the defendants argued in court documents.

After Johnson and his attorneys filed an amended lawsuit in February, attorneys for the ABC agents involved filed a motion to strike Johnson’s lawsuit, which Conrad denied in May.

“This Court only granted leave to amend to allow the plaintiff to change Count IV from a simple negligence to gross negligence claim, and, thus, any amendment beyond that scope should be stricken,” the memorandum in support of the motion to strike said.

Benjamin Chew, a lawyer representing Johnson from Manatt Phelps & Phillips, said he and his team were heartened by the court’s comments when Conrad decided to move forward with the lawsuit on Friday.

“[We] look forward to receiving his order and memorandum opinion,” Chew said.

Chew said there will be no changes as to how he and his legal team will be addressing the case. Both sides of the lawsuit will proceed by writing discovery requests, which are typically requests to view interrogatories or documents from the opposing side.

“The next step for both sides is to take written discovery of the other side, followed by oral depositions of the witnesses,” Chew said.

While Johnson’s claim of use of excessive force will likely go to trial, his other allegations of assault, battery, negligence and false arrest could be struck down by Conrad.

“Why do we want to call this so much more than an excessive force case?” Conrad asked Johnson’s attorneys, according to a Daily Progress article.

Although the federal judge will still consider the arguments of each side, it is expected for the case to go to trial in the summer of 2017.

A ruling on the motion to dismiss is expected in the coming weeks.

Counsel for the ABC did not respond to request for comment.

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