Student Jailed for Narrowly Escaping Armed Assault

Last April, late one night, three female UVA students were walking through the darkened parking lot from Harris Teeter to their car, having bought a few things for a fundraiser, when they realized they were being followed by several people. As they got to their car, one of them drew a gun, and another person jumped on the hood of the car. The terrified girls locked the doors as the assailants demanded that they get out. They fled in the car, calling 911. Shortly after they fled, they were pulled over by a vehicle with sirens and a light. Safety.

Or not. They were pulled over by their assailants: plainclothes Alcohol Beverage Control officers who wrongly suspected they had purchased a 12-pack of beer. The driver, 20-year-old Elizabeth Daly, was arrested and jailed on charges of assaulting an officer and eluding police. As K. Burnell Evans writes in the Daily Progress, Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Chapman—up for reelection in November—dropped the charges against Daly yesterday, but the student remains upset and confused by the whole experience. None of the agents are named in the story, and the ABC refused to discuss the case with the paper.

The story has gotten significant attention in the 12 hours since it was published, and seems like the kind of piece liable to get a great deal of national attention in the coming days. Here’s hoping that the outcome of that is that the ABC is made to answer for what in the world they were thinking, because there are so many levels on which this debacle was a terrible idea.

36 thoughts on “Student Jailed for Narrowly Escaping Armed Assault”

  1. Waldo, thank you for covering this truly appalling incident!I hope there is some way to hold these ABC officers accountable. Even if the young women involved had been carrying beer, there would be no excuse for pulling out a gun. At least the prosecutor showed some sense.

  2. I’m pretty sure that these are what the ABC calls “special agents”. I’ve been wondering who the specific individuals were who conducted this bizarre operation, and to that end, here’s a list of all ABC employees with the state’s “Law Enforcement III” job type who worked for the agency in 2011 and make more than $52,559. I suspect that some of these folks were participants in this, but I’m not sure of how to round the list down from those 87.

  3. Why do the ABC folks even have guns?

    If they feel they are going into a situation where that is needed, they should request a local police officer to assist.

  4. This is a PR nightmare for ABC and may be a tipping point for something to change. Why it took this long for charges to get dropped is beyond understanding. I guess it’s god for the Commonwealth Attorney that this didn’t come out before the primary. Could have made it closer than it was.

  5. jmcnamera, it’s a problem with federal departments and agencies, etc., each one wants to have it own armed police force, and they will make a big bureaucratic effort to get it. Now the ABC deals with moonshiners so there’s more of a reason, but these guys sound like creeps cruising women.

  6. @colfer : I may be quite wrong, but I don’t think that the VABC deals with moonshiners. Licensing for distilled liquor production is a federal matter (up to the TTB and ATF), and I’m not sure that VABC cares very much about illicit beer or wine production.

    I can understand why VABC might need undercover agents, and I can understand why they might need to be armed (although I too can imagine VABC instead cooperating with local and state police to investigate crime), but this affair shows gross incompetance. What were these people _thinking_? I only hope VABC doesn’t compound the matter by stonewalling or by accepting corporate fault but refusing to discipline the agents.

  7. It is troubling that in today’s DP the ABC representative is blaming the victim in this mess up. ALSO, I think that the university should be publicly supporting these students. Students should be able to safely go to the grocery store for ice cream! Policies need to be changed and the ABC needs to make a real apology.
    As the parent of a college student in another Virginia town, I am truly shocked by this incident.

  8. I’m not usually a fan of lawsuits, but if it were me (or my minor child), I’d sue. I’d want to be reimbursement for what I spent on a lawyer to defend myself against the felony charges, and I’d want it to be made public what exactly the agents based their “reasonable suspicion” on. I’d also want some retraining/rethinking of how ABC goes about their enforcement role.

  9. @Claire

    I have a similar aversion against lawsuits and I don’t know how successful any private suit from the obviously injured parties would be.

    Most of all — I wonder why this sort of egregious illegality isn’t (or can’t) be pursued by public authorities responsible for protecting good public order.

    On the face of it, these ABC agents, if they did what the charged person (… we might say “victim”) alleges and what the CA seems to agree (on the basis of what sort of investigation? That’s another story for the journalists) they did, then why doesn’t some authority on the public dime pursue action against those who have so obviously done wrong to the innocent?

    What if were you who faced down armed men? Or your daughter?

    For buying bottled water and ice cream.

  10. It’s become increasingly obvious that there will be little to no consequences or recourse for any and all bad behavior on the part of local law enforcement. If the cops mess up, their supervisors give them a slap on the wrist for show and refuse to discuss anything with the public, and there’s never any investigation, transparancy, or justice. It’s outrageous, and I feel like stories like this are happening increasingly often. What’s it going to take for this to actually change?

  11. I’m not sure when things were different, James. Was there a Golden Age in which police (or military) misconduct was vigorously addressed in a transparent forum? The “thin blue line” has been a thing for a long time–as long as there has been a distinction between civilians and non-civilians, I imagine. I get that people (perhaps not you but certainly many others) want to make this kind of thing about Obama, but that seems needlessly to politicize an issue (i.e., armed Authority’s tendency to protect its own) that isn’t political. Corporations resist transparency and accountability, too. Individuals resist transparency and accountability, too. It seems like it’s human nature, and particularly the nature of humans in groups, to stonewall, evade, and deny responsibility. It may be true that we’re *hearing* more stories, but that’s no sure index to whether or not there *are* more occurring.

    I’m more interested in this question: other nations manage to police their populace without the level of arming that we (mostly) accept: we not only have massively armed regular police, we apparently also have all these “enforcement” agents who are ALSO armed. To enforce the laws regarding the purchase of BEER? We need to arm those people? Seriously? Collectively, as a society, we’re basically saying “we accept the risk that someone will get shot to death over a violation of the drinking age.” Maybe we should really rethink that and then make it clear to our legislators that we don’t think the drinking age is serious enough to risk a shooting.

  12. @Claire and others : “Maybe we should really rethink that and then make it clear to our legislators that we don’t think the drinking age is serious enough to risk a shooting.”

    What is UVa’s position on the Amethyst Initiative?

    Or some other similar action towards rational reduction of harm?

    What does Pres. Sullivan think? What does Dean Groves say and do?

  13. I’ve had a hard time envisioning the scenario in which this whole thing could have been a good idea. What if they really had bought a 12-pack of beer? Then what? That justifies agents swarming their car and pulling a gun?

    And were they targeted? Surely the ABC officers had no idea of knowing that the purchaser was aged 20, rather than 21. Are they going to chase down people leaving the store with alcohol-looking substances, guns at the ready, and insist that they prove again (since they have already done so with the clerk) that they’re of age?

    The whole thing is just insane.

  14. Claire –
    When I was talking about the increase in police misbehavior, I was speaking on a local level; we’ve seen citizens shot by cops in the city in March and in May, and there have been two similar incidents in the county in June. The public has not been provided with enough information to assess the behavior of the police in those circumstances, and it looks like we never will be.

    But you’re right; certainly the abuse of power by those in authority is nothing new; in fact, I’m increasingly swayed by the arguments that brutality and abuse of authority are in fact inherent in a policed society, and that violence committed by the police is the function of the system itself, and not an unfortunate anomaly. I’m usually far more wary and skeptical of the police than I am of my fellow citizens. If we are going to have an police force (and an armed one, at that) — which is a topic which intelligent minds can rationally debate, I believe — then it’s necessary to have the process be entirely transparent and for their actions to be subject to review by the public. Though as you point out, I can’t point to an example of any time in history where that has actually happened. It’s in the nature of systems of power to guard their power and to excuse any abuse of it.

    (Also, though this is in the larger sense related to the issue of PRISM / gov’t surveillance, I wasn’t try to tie that in or blame this on Obama; I voted for the guy twice, and vastly prefer him to a great many other figures in government, but his administration have been paranoid control freaks just like every administration before them; they just happen to have better technology now).

  15. I agree with you, James. I tend to focus on the widespread availability of arms (on both the police and civilian sides) as the disturbing twist our culture puts on this nigh-universal phenomenon. I’m not more wary of police than fellow citizens, though–fellow citizens scare me a LOT when they’re armed to the teeth and whipped into a paranoid/nativist frenzy by for-profit media. Heck, IMO George Zimmerman down in Florida is an example of a “fellow citizen” with access to arms who behaves in exactly the same way as our run-amok police.

    I do worry that the demonizing of the police is going to lead further down the road of Us v. Them. I don’t think effective reform can come about by being imposed from outside–it has to come from inside (this applies to government as well). But if increasingly no one wants anything to do with the police, then the likelihood of effective reform seems to diminish.

  16. Oh, come ON, people!!

    Apparently this was Foxfield weekend? Could it be that she was wearing a brightly colored sundress?

    Wearing such an outfit on Foxfield weekend is just asking for a group of armed men to physically attack you in a dark parking lot! You never know when one of these types is smuggling some hard lemonade to a sleeper cell cornhole tournament!

    Any increase in the police state’s power and authority is a fair trade off for the assurance that no 20 year olds are drinking alcohol on foxfield weekend. Keep up the great work, ABC agents!!

    I, for one, welcome our insect overlords. No doubt they’ll need clever internet commenters to propagate their propaganda throughout the innertubes? I humbly submit my application.

  17. “…..three female UVA students were walking through the darkened parking lot from Harris Teeter to their car, having bought a few things for a fundraiser, when they realized they were being followed by several people.”

    Then an ugly unwieldly punchline followed. Tragically what happened was not any joke.

    Nice what manner the media presented the girls’ ABC Assailants in. What I the [explitive] would like to know was Harris Teeter (HT) aware of this sting cover operation that night. But of course, big box stores in Charlottesville are expected to matter of factly with business poker faces to deny any plausibility or whatever complicity.

    Oh sure, HT is going to say it is their explicit policy that we card to verify age. I know, I used to work for them one time. Besides, if the cashier at the register scans any barcoded alchol product, a prompt has been programed for the checkout cashier to inquire an identification from customer for (entirely) verification purpose. If the query can not be satisfied, the store ultimately reserves the right to and refuse the sale.

    Now granted, there’s another matter of whether the grocery store (where this transpired) was aware of and had part in the underage surveillance. Either way, how difficult would it have been to have discreetly (pay attention) witnessed off to the side (while inside the store) what items were being rung up for these girls, or to have asked whoever assigned at that register whether an alchol sale had been transacted?

    If these lame ABC agents do manage to lose their jobs; they hopefully won’t turnover into new business ventures as private eyes, house dicks or any othert sort of investigators.

    All this of course provided ABC was even inside the store and at the invitation someway of HT, and not tresspassing or there without the store’s knowledge.

    “Chapman said he’d never encountered a situation like this in his 34 years of experience.”

    Yet he “stood by the agents’ decision to file charges, citing faith in a process that yieled an appropriate resolution.”

    Sounds too much like an entangling matter for an ongoing debate. Lucky for the ol’ Chap….. err yeah, what perlogik said about “not coming out before the primary.”

    And @ james,
    “…..there’s never any investigation, transparancy, or justice. ”

    Why do you need these so much when all the court of public opinion has been preemptively sequestered? Yeah, we’re all Howard Beals.

  18. “Why do the ABC folks even have guns?”

    “I may be quite wrong, but I don’t think that the VABC deals with moonshiners. Licensing for distilled liquor production is a federal matter (up to the TTB and ATF), and I’m not sure that VABC cares very much about illicit beer or wine production.”

    Just to clarify a couple of statements noted above, the ABC Special Agents have the same police powers as a State Trooper. They do carry handguns and take the same training as any other law enforcement officer.

    Actually, The Commonweatlh of VA started the ABC with the goal of eliminating/reducing the amount of illegal moonshine in VA and bootlegging. It was to stem the loss of revenue to the state through whiskey taxes.

    In the past the Charlottesville Field office had 3 officers and supervision was out of the Staunton office. I’m do not know how many officers are in the Charlottesville Field office now.

    Also, doesn’t the accused have to sit before a Magistrate to confirm the charges and agree to have the person locked up? The Magistrate could have intervened and not certified the charges and let the young lady go.

  19. If it was too dark in the parking lot for the ABC agents to tell the difference between a case of water and a case of beer, it was too dark for these young women to clearly see a badge flashed by some plain-clothes officers. The women did what every self-defense course tells you to do: call the police & go to the nearest police station. Or at least they tried to.

    This reminds me of the Phillip Cobbs case a few years ago: DEA agents with helicopters & SUVs blasting onto private property because of two marijuana plants somewhere on many acres of private land.

    Both cases are paramilitary over-reach.

    When I was young, the local sheriff would have come for a nice chat & found out what was what & apologized if they were wrong (water, not beer) & pointed out & uprooted the two offending plants if they were right. And then be done.

    ABC officers, DEA agents, the local Sheriff: all of them are public SERVANTS. They’re not behaving that way any longer.

    The VA ABC owes this young woman an apology & a check. She’ll never really recover from this experience and she’ll never really be on the side of law enforcement any longer. Law enforcement isn’t enforcing laws: they’re coming in with guns drawn and an assumption of guilt.

    When I lived in California, an alarming number of women were pulled over by a faux police officer who then raped & murdered them. It’s why almost every state allows you to proceed to the nearest police station if someone tries to pull you over. These young women did the right thing; the ABC officers were 100% in the wrong.

    Beyond the spreading of terror in the law-abiding community, which costs us all, I also object to the monetary cost of these actions: magistrates, prosecutors, judges, officers’ in court rather than on the job, bailiffs, court stenographers, court clerks. It’s an absolutely insane use of our resources, and all in a pathetic attempt to ‘prove’ that the officers’ over-reach was appropriate.

    I’m simply nauseous.

  20. I fear the only result of this scandal will be ABC agents treating the privileged with more respect. There would have been little outcry if this had happened to more people more suspicious, but it does uncover the behavior you describe.

    INAL, but I think it is difficult to sue the commonwealth. Sometimes the legislature has to pass a bill to allow a specific party to sue. The federal gov’t has a lot more waiver of sovereign immunity built into the law, I think.

  21. “ABC officers, DEA agents, the local Sheriff: all of them are public SERVANTS. They’re not behaving that way any longer.”

    Just to be clear on a point here. While such persons are NOT the public’s chained slaves, such persons must already be devoted to accountability and need to be answerable to us, who give consent for being governed (in the first place.)

    The ABC agents executed an act of domestic terrorism in this case and (expletive) closely obliterated whatever instance of domestic tranquility that instead could’ve prevailed. Any further salvagable integrity for the ABC makes it an inherant necessitity to come forth and own up. To do otherwise means deeper outsider distrust and insider top down head rolling.

    “The federal gov’t has a lot more waiver of sovereign immunity built into the law, I think.”

    I suspiciously am completely doubting that. Guess we’ll just have to anticipate what lawsuits get filed to sue for anything.

  22. I have a 21 year old daughter who shops at that HT a lot. I told her years ago that if a non-uniformed nutcase follows her to her car and brandishes a “badge”, she is to get in the car, lock it, call 911, and start blowing the horn.

    I’m not a litigious guy, but if this happened to my daughter, I would be in Richmond talking to the best law firm in the state.

  23. I think the agents were all hyped up from the ten successful busts they had already completed there. Wonder how they treated those people? Wonder if they’re on a quota or rewarded for number of busts? Now turn it all around and imagine if it was all at the 5th street food lion. More guns, but less easy pickings. Pro tip to kids buying beer (or blue-bottled water by the case): go to some place gun-toting ABC agents fear.

  24. The other question that no one is asking is WHAT was the magistrate thinking when he ordered the girls to go to jail. Why, after hearing the facts of the incident, didn’t he just give the girls a bond until the court had a chance to hear the case? Sounds like dumb and dumber.

  25. Just FYI, five out of the seven “special agents” involved are: agent John Taylor, agent Andrew Taylor, agent L. Blanks (the lone female), Agent Brown, and the terrified and traumatized agent who filed the complaint with three felonies is agent Andrew Covey.

  26. So I was chatting about this with a person in the beer business, and he said that there actually aren’t that many ABC agents, and when they go out on raids and stings against the demon alcohol, they basically have a pool of bubbas that they deputize just for that raid. So in this event there only actually one agent, and a posse of wanna be mall cops. Is this true? Are these the “special agents” waldo speaks of? Because it seems a pretty bad way to do things, especially if they are armed. Anyway, that said:

    You went to teeter to buy girl
    water like you never had before
    and some ice cream and cookie dough for 4
    now, now, now
    Im gonna teach you, teach you, teach you
    all about the law girl, all about law
    sit yourself down, take a seat
    all you gotta do is pull over for me

    A B C , Its easy as
    1 2 3 , as simple as
    do re mi, A B C, 1 2 3
    baby you have the right to remain silent…

  27. Simply abolish the ABC. We already have state and local police, move the funding to them and they can handle the job.

  28. Has the University of Virginia expressed support for these students at any point? Have I just missed it?
    The more information released about this episode, especially the 911 transcript, the more scary and incompetent these ABC agents appear. And so far, nothing justifies the earlier arrogant response of the ABC where they blamed these young women. This is a case where the press coverage has been all important. For all of us parents sending students back to colleges in this state this fall, I hope that specific steps to prevent something like this happening again are put in place very soon.

  29. You know the ABC is screwed when I totally agree with Waldo… ;-)

    There is little breathing room left for them at that point.

  30. I think it is really important to keep pressure on our legislators. These agents need to go and the ABC either needs to be disbanded or reconfigured top down due to mismanagement, overreach and general arrogance when it comes to refusing to answer to the citizens of Virginia. I, for one, don’t feel that comfortable going to a shopping center grocery store in the evening knowing that these thugs may be in the parking lot with guns ablazin’.

  31. The head of the ABC and Gov Bob both attended the same fake university – Regent, founded by Pat Robertson.

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