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The new guidelines spell out what officers must do during arrests, but critics say the policy is only cosmetic.
Saturday, October 19, 2013
Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control has issued a general order changing policies in the wake of public outcry over the case of a University of Virginia student confronted by a half-dozen undercover agents in a parking lot after a crate of water was mistaken for beer.
Obtained Thursday by The Daily Progress, the directive to all ABC law enforcement personnel requires, among other things, that agents who point a weapon at someone or damage property in the line of duty complete use of force reports. The two-page document also lays out an upcoming general order requiring plans to be filed for operations involving five or more agents.
Agents additionally will be required to wear an overgarment, or “throw over,” marked “ABC Special Agent” when “making a traffic stop” or assisting local or state police during violent crime incidents, according to the order. The directive also echoes a change announced by the agency in July requiring at least one uniformed agent to be present during plainclothes enforcement operations such as the one that landed Elizabeth Daly, 20, in jail.
An agent drew a weapon April 11 when a panicked Daly and two sorority friends — unaware that the agents were police — refused to comply with demands to open the doors to her SUV in a Barracks Road Shopping Center parking lot, according to ABC. Another agent tried to smash open a window in the SUV with a flashlight, ABC said. Daly fled, grazing two agents with the vehicle, and spent a night in jail on felony charges of assaulting law enforcement officers and eluding police.
Prosecutors dropped the charges June 27, but the case sparked a national outcry. ABC announced an initial policy change July 5, stating that a uniformed agent would act as a contact person and likely wear a utility belt and an overgarment emblazoned with the word “police” in white letters. At the time, an ABC spokeswoman said agents did not have uniforms. The recent directive calls for agents to wear a full bureau uniform.
“ABC Special Agents have for many years been issued full uniforms, similar to other police agencies, which they wear regularly in appropriate situations,” agency spokeswoman Rebecca Gettings said in an email Thursday. “In addition, each agent is issued a lightweight police ‘throw’ for situations such as the reference to traffic stops in the operational directive. It is somewhat similar to the vests worn by other police officers directing traffic.”
Gettings did not say whether additional changes would follow. ABC on Wednesday broke its more than three-month long silence about Daly’s case to say that a state police review had been completed. ABC board Chairman Neal Insley requested the review in July.
“Although ABC reserved comment while the State Police conducted their independent review, our silence is not indicative of a lack of concern or lack of action,” Insley said in a written statement.
ABC last revised its use of force policy in 2007 under the leadership of Francis Monahan, a 27-year veteran of the Richmond Police Department, who now serves as the law enforcement bureau’s deputy director of administration.
That policy advises agents against using “flashlights, radios, or any other item(s) not issued specifically as defensive weapon as a means of force, except when there is reason to believe that the imminent threat of death or serious physical injury exists, and no other option is available.”
The 12-page document instructs agents to “only draw or display his/her Bureau-approved firearm when circumstances cause the agent to reasonably believe that it may be necessary to use the weapon.”
The policy specifies that lethal force may only be used:
n to protect the agent or others from “an imminent threat of death or serious physical injury,”
n to prevent the escape of a fleeing subject who has likely committed a felony involving death or injury or the threat of it and whose escape poses a threat to others,
n or to “dispatch an animal” that poses a threat or as “a humanitarian measure where the animal is seriously injured.”
Rutherford Institute President John Whitehead called ABC’s latest policy changes “cosmetic” and said they failed to address the underlying issues that led to Daly’s arrest.
“The way they approached Daly that night is how they approach al-Qaida agents,” Whitehead said. “Obviously, their training procedures are not working.”
ABC said in June that “the agents were acting upon reasonable suspicion” and “this whole unfortunate incident could have been avoided” had Daly and her friends “complied with law enforcement requests.”
Whitehead said agents needed more than reasonable suspicion to order the women out of the SUV. The sorority sisters were 40 yards from the agent who signaled that the LaCroix sparkling water they purchased from Harris Teeter might be a case of beer, according to an ABC record.
“The Fourth Amendment requires probable cause,” Whitehead said. “All they had to do was get her license plate number, get a search warrant and go check the car.”
The agency’s response to the events of April 11 should be measured, and long-term, said state Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County.
“This is not as complete as I would like for it to be in terms of laying out what happened and what’s been done to correct it,” Deeds said. “I would like to know what steps they’ve taken … and I don’t think there’s any harm in simply saying, ‘We made a mistake.’ ”
An internal review of Daly’s arrest is nearing completion, Insley said Wednesday.
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