On The Front Lines
Decrying ABC Policy Change as No Change at All, Rutherford Institute Calls on General Assembly to Investigate ABC Sting Over Sparkling Water
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. —John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, is calling on members of the Virginia General Assembly to launch a formal investigation into an April 2013 incident in which a University of Virginia student was targeted and terrorized by Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control agents after she purchased sparkling water at a grocery store. Elizabeth Daly was eventually jailed for daring to evade her accosters, who failed to identify themselves or approach her in a non-threatening manner. Warning that a slap on the wrist to the ABC agents involved and a superficial policy change intended to mollify an outraged public will do little to address the underlying causes of such clearly systemic problems within the ranks of law enforcement, Whitehead has asked the General Assembly to push back against the growing menace of militarized police forces which have in recent years become increasingly aggressive towards non-violent criminal suspects and law-abiding citizens going about their daily business.
“Due in large part to the militarization of the police and the equipping of other government agencies with weaponry, we are moving into a culture in which law enforcement agencies have developed a sense of entitlement that is at odds with the spirit of our Constitution—in particular, the Fourth Amendment,” said Whitehead, who addresses these very issues in his new book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State (SelectBooks, 2013). “These are not isolated overreactions on the part of rogue officers. Rather, they are emblematic of a growing tension over the use of militarized police to perform relatively routine tasks, resulting in situations fraught with danger to both civilians and police alike. What’s more, Americans should be concerned about whatever factors are contributing to a seemingly ‘trigger happy’ tendency on the part of some law enforcement officials, whether it’s an arsenal of militarized weapons and an increasing reliance on lethal weapons or insufficient training in nonviolent conflict resolution.”
On April 11, 2013, after leaving the Harris Teeter grocery store in Charlottesville, Va., Elizabeth Daly, a young college student at the University of Virginia, was accosted by a man and woman in street clothes, who began knocking on her car windows. The man yanked at the door handle, banged on the window and yelled at the women to exit the vehicle. Other men circled the car, one drew a gun while yet another jumped onto the hood of the car. Justifiably terrified, Daly and her two friends attempted to flee the parking lot to safety in her SUV, immediately calling 911 for help. It wasn’t until police arrived with flashing sirens and lights that Elizabeth finally learned the identity of her attackers, Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Enforcement Officers, who suspected them of purchasing alcohol. Despite the fact that the girls’ “suspected” contraband turned out to be cans of LaCroix sparkling water, Elizabeth was arrested, jailed and charged with three felonies. Citing this and other incidents, Whitehead makes the case to the Virginia General Assembly that incidents like Daly’s are becoming all too familiar in cities and towns across the country. Whitehead has asked the House Police, Militia and Public Safety Committee to ensure that ABC agents are operating within the parameters of the Constitution, abiding by the higher standard of probable cause (as opposed to the lesser standard of reasonable suspicion) when carrying out investigations, acting as public servants in service to the taxpayers rather than commanders directing underlings who must obey without question, and are properly trained in how to handle encounters with civilians without resorting to intimidation tactics, overt aggression and threats of violence.