Standing blocks from where six plainclothes Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control agents accosted three sorority sisters they suspected of purchasing alcohol, Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Robert Sarvis on Monday called for an end to "the increasing aggressiveness of law enforcement tactics."
Sarvis said the agency's handling of the late-night altercation between the University of Virginia students and the agents, who mistook a crate of sparkling water for a case of beer, was "emblematic of a larger problem."
“It's not enough to apologize,” Sarvis said. “It's time for change that should have happened long ago.”
Sarvis said the agency should cede its law enforcement duties to state and local police, along with the funds budgeted to support those efforts. Sarvis also called for an end to the nearly 80-year state monopoly on liquor sales.
“If we make these changes, we can help ensure another incident like this doesn't happen again, and that Virginia remains open-minded and open for business,” he said, adding that local officials better understand the enforcement needs of the communities they serve.
ABC, the state agency tasked with policing booze sales, moonshiners and underage drinking, came under fire in June after news broke of student Elizabeth Daly's arrest on felony charges after she tried to drive away from the officers whom she didn't recognize as police. The charges were later dismissed.
"Plainclothes officers aggressively approached three young women they suspected of buying alcoholic beverages ... they had not done so, but even if they had, the aggressive tactics would have been unreasonable in relation to the violation," Sarvis said. "People don't want to be threatened by the people who are supposed to be protecting them."
Sarvis, 36, is a former Republican contender for state senate and the Libertarian Party of Virginia’s first gubernatorial candidate since 2001. He faces Democratic challenger Terry McAuliffe and Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli in November's general election.
McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin said the former Democratic National Committee chairman wants to wait until a state police review of Daly's arrest concludes before considering any structural changes to the agency.
"Terry believes that we need strong oversight of ABC enforcement actions to avoid situations like those in April," Schwerin said.
Cuccinelli did not respond to a request for comment by press time Monday.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell campaigned on a promise to privatize state liquor sales and fought for years to push a plan through the General Assembly, but the proposal never came to a vote.
"It simply makes no sense to have state government in the liquor business. Unfortunately the governor’s proposal did not receive the legislative support necessary to move forward during his term," said McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin. "However, most big ideas take time to ultimately succeed. We remain confident that ABC will be privatized in Virginia in the years ahead, putting the Commonwealth in line with the majority of our fellow states."
Virginia is one of 18 states that fully or partially control retail and wholesale sales of alcohol, according to the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association.
The state's secretary of public safety in 1996 and 2003 oversaw studies that considered moving ABC law enforcement under the umbrella of state police. Neither survey predicted the move would yield savings or boost efficiency.
"Every agency is going to say things that are going to try to maintain the power they have," Sarvis said, of the reports. "Moving enforcement, especially to local police, makes sense, because local leaders are more accountable to the people."
State legislators passed over a resolution to study moving all state law enforcement functions under state police during the last General Assembly session. State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County, has said he will reintroduce the resolution in 2014.
ABC declined to comment on Sarvis' proposal.