The Corner merchant who checked Martese Johnson’s ID
talks publicly for the first time.
“No one deserves that,” he says about the violent arrest of the third-year UVA student early Wednesday morning that has made national headlines and sparked outrage across the country. “Mr. Johnson did not deserve that in the least.”
*** PODCASTS and PHOTOS BELOW ***
At an invite-only press conference on Saturday morning, March 21, Kevin Badke, the 35-year-old co-owner and manager of Trinity Irish Pub, spoke with reporters about what happened the night third-year University of Virginia student Martese Johnson was thrown to the ground and arrested by agents of the Virginia Department Alcoholic Beverage Control, a state agency with police powers.
Badke, speaking publicly for the first time and less than 24 hours after having been interviewed by Virginia State Police in its investigation of the highly publicized incident, shared key pieces of information about what exactly took place in those brief moments before Johnson was approached by three ABC agents— only steps from the front door of his restaurant where he was standing.
Badke made clear his desire to “set the record straight.” He added that “people deserve to know what exactly was the interaction between me and Mr. Johnson.” It was, he said, “very much business as usual,” that involved absolutely no violence or anger.
In the recorded podcast of the press conference, available only here at Inside Charlottesville, Badke discussed in candid detail his brief interaction with the 20-year-old Johnson: he said he checked his ID (one of “about 30” he inspected closely at the door that busy night) and concluded that because Johnson did not recall correctly the zip code on his Illinois driver’s license, he deemed it likely to be a “fake ID” and told Johnson he could not enter.
Johnson’s attorney has publicly stated his client’s driver’s license was not fake, and the Virginia ABC did not charge Johnson with possessing or trying to use a fake ID.
At no time, Badke said, did he check the birth date or the photo on Johnson’s ID. Had he done so, he still would not have let Johnson enter the restaurant, because he was not 21– and a Trinity regulation, in effect that evening, required that all who entered after 10p be at least 21-years of age.
Badke went on to say that Johnson reacted disappointed at being told he could not enter, though remained polite. Badke held out Johnson’s ID (see photo), to which Johnson stepped out of line, took back his ID, and started moving away up the Corner. Badke said no belligerent, angry or threatening words were exchanged during their brief conversation. He underscored his view that it was a quick, even cordial, interaction that probably lasted no more than 20 seconds.
Only a few moments later, Badke said he turned towards some loud commotion to see the same young man with whom he’d just been talking, lying face down on the sidewalk, an ABC agent holding him down, a knee in Johnson’s back. (see photo) According to officials, Johnson was arrested for being drunk in public and for obstructing justice. The agents reported that Johnson was acting “agitated and belligerent.”
Johnson’s head wound from having been thrown to the pavement required emergency medical attention and resulted in ten stitches.
Badke stated emphatically at the press conference this morning that he saw no evidence that evening to indicate Martese Johnson was in any way intoxicated or otherwise compromised.
Badke said that the ABC had previously made clear to him that agents would be on the Corner that night (St. Patrick’s Day, Tuesday, March 17), and that they would be there specifically to watch his business. They explained to me, Badke said, that “it was because we were Irish.” Badke said he does not know if that referred to their ancestral heritage (the owners are descended from Irish immigrants) or if that referred to the fact that Trinity is marketed as an “Irish Pub.”
Badke told reporters that the ABC agents did not actually enter the restaurant that night, but three agents did stand outside, near the street, watching he and his employees check IDs. Badke said the agents told him they were there to make sure there was not “a riot” among the students on the Corner.
In the approximately 30-minute press conference (the full raw audio is available below), Badke denied any allegations that he or any member of his staff racially profile those who seek entrance to the restaurant. He said Johnson was one of “about 30” people that night to whom he personally devoted extra attention to their IDs.
When asked, Badke could only speculate as to why the ABC agents would have approached Johnson following the brief exchange at the Trinity entrance. The three agents were not, according to Badke, close enough to hear the conversation he had with Johnson— but they were watching very closely.
It has been reported that the ABC agents approached Mr. Johnson after having seen him refused entrance at Trinity, and they suspected him to be in possession of a fake ID. Why they chose to approach that particular young man as opposed to any other number of individuals in the busy Corner district that night, with its many blocks of restaurants and bars, is still under investigation by Virginia State Police.
In the wake of the Elizabeth Daily incident of April 2013, which also took place in Charlottesville and also involved what many observers concluded was heavy-handed use of force by agents of the ABC (in that case, against white female UVA students who were buying canned water the agents mistook for a 12-pack of beer), the Virginia ABC issued a statement affirming that their “agents have received and will continue to receive training in how to recognize and react to situations that might require de-escalation or disengagement.”
Furthermore, the ABC said, “Through training and other reinforcement, ABC will promote a reasonable common-sense philosophy regarding the correlation between the seriousness for an offense and the agents’ response, ensuring that response is proportional to the suspected offense.”
Daly sued the ABC over her treatment and for what many viewed as an arrest of retribution. She sought $40 million in damages and eventually settled for $212,500.
Following the Daly incident, the Virginia ABC said their agents would henceforth wear body cameras. Nearly two years later, none of the three agents involved in the Martese Johnson arrest are believed to have been wearing body cameras.
At the urging of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has instructed the State Police to launch an investigation into the arrest of Martese Johnson.
Reporters present during this morning’s press conference at Trinity were: Coy Barefoot of Inside Charlottesville, Jaclyn Piermarini of the Newsplex, Hawes Spencer of WVTF Public Radio, and Julia Horowitz, Editor-in-Chief of the Cavalier Daily.
1. Kevin Badke, the co-owner and manager of the Trinity Irish Pub, in conversation with reporters during an invite-only press conference held at the Trinity, Saturday morning March 21. Badke’s attorney Cheri Lewis can also be heard in this podcast.
2. Cheri Lewis, the Charlottesville attorney representing Mr. Badke and his fellow owners, reads a prepared statement regarding the events preceding the arrest of Martese Johnson.