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Emails shed light on ABC case, response

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Posted: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 10:59 pm

The second-highest ranking official at state Alcoholic Beverage Control was among those who questioned agents’ actions in the arrest of a University of Virginia student wrongly suspected of buying beer while underage.

"What say you of the way these agents handled [the] situation and why so many in one spot please,” ABC Commissioner Sandra C. Canada wrote in a June 28 email to Shawn Walker, director of the agency’s bureau of law enforcement. “Looks really bad and lawsuit material."

That message was among 234 pages of agency emails released Wednesday by ABC in response to an open-records request regarding the case of Elizabeth Daly. The emails provide further details about Daly’s April 11 run-in with a half-dozen ABC agents, a prosecutor’s decision to drop the charges and the agency’s scramble to respond amid a torrent of public outcry over the story after it broke June 28.

"This is spreading like the wildfire in Colorado," an agency official wrote. 

Authorities charged Daly, 20, with three felonies after she and two sorority sisters fled six plainclothes agents who confronted the women in a Barracks Road Shopping Center parking lot mistaking a crate of LaCroix sparkling water for beer. The women said they didn’t recognize the agents as law enforcement officers, and their panic heightened when one of the agents drew a gun. Another agent tried to smash a window in Daly’s SUV with his flashlight, one of the emails said.

A week before Daly’s June 27 court date on charges she assaulted two agents by grazing them with her SUV as she fled, Charlottesville Commonwealth 's Attorney Dave Chapman advised the arresting agent he planned to withdraw the charges, according to an email exchange between John L. Taylor, the special agent in charge at the scene, and his supervisor.

Chapman encouraged the agent to begin running ABC operations through the prosecutor’s office "for guidance prior to them being executed," Taylor wrote. Chapman told the agents that Daly "had suffered enough by spending one night in jail," the email said.

The prosecutor also told agents that they should dress in casual business attire while conducting operations. At least two of the agents in the Daly incident were dressed in T-shirts, the women said. None of the agents was in uniform.

ABC last week announced an “immediate change” in agency practice to require a uniformed agent in operations like the one that landed Daly in jail.

Another email included a letter officials ultimately decided against sending to The Daily Progress in response to the newspaper’s initial June 28 story.

That letter said the agents were located 40 yards from the women after they emerged from the Harris Teeter store carrying the blue box of sparkling water that agents mistook for beer. Two agents approached the SUV, pressing their badges to the glass when the women refused to roll down their windows. After those agents raised their voices in an effort to be heard, four other agents “quickly approached” and “fanned out around the SUV,” displaying their badges.

Daly's SUV lurched forward into an agent who was pushed onto the hood of the SUV, the letter said. An agent who had positioned himself on the front passenger side of the vehicle drew his weapon, “but directed the barrel toward the ground (commonly referred to as the Low Ready Position),” the letter said. Daly’s SUV struck that agent as she sped away. Another agent sought to shatter a window with his flashlight, “fearing the agents in front of the vehicle could become seriously injured.”

ABC policy released Monday states "an agent threatened by an oncoming vehicle should move out of its path.”

Both agents who initially approached Daly joined ABC last summer. Chesapeake-based agent Lauren E. Blanks graduated from the Central Virginia Criminal Justice Academy last June, according to court records. Hampton-based agent Armond Brown joined the agency in August after spending a year-and-a-half in the Christopher Newport University police department, the school said. 

Daly and her roommates have said the agent who first approached the passenger side of the SUV is the one who pulled his weapon. Court documents identify Brown as the agent who made contact on the passenger side. ABC has declined to name the agent who drew.

Earlier April 11, ABC officials met with UVa fraternity and sorority presidents about alcohol laws and enhanced enforcement, university spokesman McGregor McCance said. ABC announced plans a month earlier to step up policing around the university, McCance said.

Virginia State Police are conducting an administrative review of ABC’s handling of the case at the request of agency Chairman J. Neal Insley, he said Monday.

Insley was in Hawaii at a conference when angry emails began flooding the agency. He advised officials June 28 to “say we are reviewing … and no further information (no names) at this time,” according to an email between agency officials.

Emails between Taylor and his supervisor, Chris Goodman, indicate they saw it coming. A phone call from The Daily Progress prompted a series of exchanges "about Daly" between agency officials. An email to all public affairs personnel sent 10 minutes after the initial call warned against answering questions related to the case.

"Sooo ....Did we get any flack about this?" one spokeswoman wrote later.

By Friday afternoon, there was no need to ask.

"I can't even keep up with the Twitter attacks anymore ... I think our statement was too little too late. Or as one Twitter follower puts it "a failed attempt at damage control," a spokeswoman said.

Emails streamed in from across the country and across the pond.

"If I had been surrounded by plain clothes officers with no better an identification system than this I would have shot them cold," a Houston man wrote.

"Please make all findings of your review publicly available, including the names of the officers involved," wrote another man from the United Kingdom.

Agency leaders wrote June 30 that they’d had enough.

"This is getting old," agency Chief Operating Officer Curtis Coleburn wrote Walker.

"Absolutely," Walker replied.

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