Trial date set for black Virginia student bloodied during arrest

Reuters News
Posted: May 28, 2015 2:34 PM

By Gary Robertson

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Reuters) - A Virginia judge on Thursday set Sept. 30 as the tentative trial date for a black University of Virginia student who was bloodied while being arrested by white police officers.

It remains unclear whether prosecutors will bring the case against Martese Johnson, a 20-year-old junior, to trial or drop the charges of obstruction of justice without force and swearing and/or intoxication in public.

His March 18 arrest drew wide attention after a cell phone video and photos showed him pinned to the ground by state Alcoholic Beverage Control officers outside a Charlottesville bar, his face bleeding heavily.

General District Judge Robert Downer set the trial date and scheduled a pre-trial hearing for June 12. The judge said that if prosecutors decide not to proceed with the case, he would hear motions on dropping the charges on that date.

This is one of a number of cases bringing fresh scrutiny to the issue of police use of force in the United States, particularly against minorities. Johnson's arrest prompted student protests on the campus in central Virginia.

Defense attorney Daniel Watkins filed a motion last week to have the charges dismissed, saying police had no justification to arrest or detain Johnson.

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Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe ordered a state police investigation into Johnson's arrest and possible police misconduct. The investigation has been completed but its findings have not yet been released publicly.

The findings could figure into whether Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman decides to proceed with the case against Johnson.

Watkins said he should know the intentions of the prosecutors by the first week in June.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Will Dunham)