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Charges dropped against Martese Johnson

Judge Robert H. Downer Jr. accepted Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman’s motion to drop criminal charges against fourth-year College student Martese Johnson Friday morning at the Charlottesville General District Court.

The charges against Johnson occurred during the early hours of March 18 on the Corner outside of Trinity Irish Pub, after Johnson was arrested by Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control agents.

The Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney announced their decision not to pursue misdemeanor charges of obstruction of justice without force and public intoxication against Johnson Thursday afternoon.

Daniel Watkins, Johnson’s lawyer, said the two main goals from the beginning were to limit Johnson’s criminal liability and protect his reputation.

“Obviously today, both of those goals were achieved and Martese has been vindicated of the case against him,” Watkins said. “We’re overjoyed today.”

Johnson said he was elated to hear the charges against him had been dropped, but also said he believed his personal experience was not necessarily indicative of other minorities' experiences with law enforcement.

“I’m more ecstatic that I’ll be able to move forward and serve my society in the way I see best fit,” Johnson said. “It is a tremendous opportunity for me to have a second chance at not having charges and being free. I think that in many instances, minorities are not allowed this privilege. It shouldn’t just be the honor student who goes to the University of Virginia, who has a great academic record, to have this opportunity to have charges dropped for something that happened so unjustly. This should be an opportunity that every minority in the country should be able to experience.”

City Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Chapman cited the Virginia State Police investigation into the incident, which occurred after national outcry over the manner of the arrest, as reason for their decision to drop charges.

“After the comprehensive Virginia State Police report has been reviewed in its entirety, we believe justice [and] the community is best served taking another course [of action],” Chapman said at the hearing.

Chapman also said the city will not file criminal charges against the officers who arrested Johnson.

“In reaching this decision the Commonwealth also found that the evidence did not warrant criminal charges against law enforcement officers who were involved in the events of March 18th,” Chapman said in a press release.

At this stage, it is still unclear whether or not Johnson and Watkins intend to pursue a civil lawsuit.

“I think there is a bigger lesson to be learned, that does not require the punishing of these officers,” Johnson said. “I think that part of what happened with me can’t be blamed on the officers, it has to be blamed on society as a whole.”

Johnson also said that while race definitely played a factor into the case, he did not believe it was the only factor.

“I think the other factors that played a big role in this situation were poor training by the force, as well as the over militarization of police forces in general,” he said.

Chapman said he hopes the case will be “an opportunity to engage ordinary citizens, law enforcement officers, and public officials in constructive dialogue concerning police and citizen relationships in a diverse community.”

The Commonwealth will hold a public presentation on the evidence in the case as well as the conclusions reached next Wednesday at 1 p.m. in City Council Chambers.

“I will be there, and I plan to have further conversations as well if they take the time to do so,” Johnson said.

Johnson said that he hoped to work to serve the minority community and the general society, as well as to shed light on injustice and serve those who may be overlooked or mistreated.

“I’ve always been passionate about social justice and the plight of minority communities throughout our country, but I think this took it to another level,” Johnson said. “It finally made me realize that regardless of what you do in this nation, regardless of what labels you have [or] what titles, certain members of our community will always be treated the same way, unless we do something about it. Now I am ten times more driven and passionate to get things done.”

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