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UVA Student Martese Johnson's Bloody Arrest Sparks Probe, Protests

Police launched an internal investigation after the arrest of a University of Virginia student sparked protests and prompted concern from officials.
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State police have launched a criminal investigation after footage showing the violent arrest of a University of Virginia student sparked protests and prompted concern among top officials.

Images of bloodied Martese Johnson being held down by an officer were shared widely online on Wednesday, along with footage of the black 20-year-old calling the cops handcuffing him "racists."

Johnson, a junior at the university, was arrested at 12:45 a.m. Wednesday near The Corner, a popular off-campus hub, his lawyer and police said. He was charged with public intoxication and obstruction of justice.

The hashtag #JusticeForMartese was posted some 70,000 times on Twitter and hundreds of students gathered on UVA's campus Wednesday night to demand justice for Johnson. They later marched through Charlottesville, some bearing signs with "Black Lives Matter" and made their way to police headquarters, according to NBC affiliate WVIR.

"We deserve to respect each other, especially in times like this," Johnson, who attended the event, told the crowd.

Virginia State Police confirmed that an "administrative review" was launched following a request from Gov. Terry McAuliffe over the incident. A criminal investigation into the incident is also underway at the request of the City of Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney, police said Thursday afternoon.

"Both elements of this investigation will take time to conduct and complete," Virginia State Police Superintendent Colonel W. Steven Flaherty, said in a statement. "We owe it to both Mr. Johnson and the Virginia ABC to be painstakingly thorough in determining the facts of the situation through interviews, evidence collection and analysis, and investigative procedure."

Officers from the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control who carried out the arrest will be restricted to administrative roles while the review is underway, the department said.

In a letter to students' parents Thursday, UVA President Teresa Sullivan she'd asked for the state police probe. "Members of our community should feel safe from the threat of bodily harm and other forms of violence," Sullivan wrote. "Today, our community stands unified in our commitment to seeking the truth about this incident. And we stand united in our belief that equal treatment and equal justice are among our fundamental rights under the law."

Sullivan also referred parents to a joint online statement from the university's vice president for diversity and equity, Marcus Martin, and the dean of African-American affairs, Maurice Apprey. The officials, both doctors, said they were "outraged" by the incident's "brutality."

"In the many years of our medical, professional and leadership roles at the university, we view the nature of this assault as highly unusual and appalling based on the information we have received," they wrote.

— Alexander Smith