ABC removed from Johnson suit

Suit moves forward against two agents, ABC director


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

John Pappas | Cavalier Daily

A federal judge dismissed parts of Martese Johnson’s lawsuit against the Virginia ABC, its director and three agents in a ruling Wednesday.

Citing Eleventh Amendment immunity for an arm of the state, U.S. District Court Judge Glen Conrad removed the ABC from the suit.

John Cielakie, a special agent for the ABC, was also dismissed from the suit.

Johnson’s bloody arrest outside Trinity Irish Pub on March 18, 2015 resulted in a head injury and led to his $3 million lawsuit alleging excessive use of force by the agents.

Agents Cielakie, Jared Miller and Thomas Custer arrested Johnson after they believed he had attempted to use a fake ID to enter Trinity and was turned away at the door. Johnson, however, said he presented a valid ID, but was denied entry after providing the wrong zip code, which he attributed to a recent change of address.

The lawsuit alleges Miller and Custer approached Johnson and grabbed him, resulting in Johnson being “slammed” into the ground. The lawsuit says Custer handcuffed Johnson and then Cielakie assisted in the arrest by placing a second pair of handcuffs on Johnson and shackling his legs.

Johnson was charged with obstruction of justice and public intoxication, but the charges were later dropped.

The lawsuit alleged false arrest, excessive force, gross negligence, battery and assault on the part of the agents.

Johnson’s suit also names the ABC and its director, Shawn P. Walker, in an allegation of failure to train or supervise the agents. Conrad dismissed the ABC from this claim due to Eleventh Amendment immunity, but upheld it for Walker.

Conrad dismissed the claim of false arrest, writing “the court believes that a reasonable ABC agent would believe that they had probable cause, albeit possibly incorrectly.”

The judge also struck down a state law claim against Walker of liability for negligent supervision because state courts have not recognized “a duty to supervise.”

Conrad also threw out the allegation of “bystander liability” against Cielakie and dismissed him from the suit.

Johnson’s claims against Miller and Custer for excessive force, gross negligence, battery and assault will proceed, however.

The case will go to trial in July.

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