Chapel Hill’s police chief is looking to restore community trust after Alcohol Law Enforcement agents forcibly arrested a man on Franklin Street.
“I want to make clear that the energy and commitment we have dedicated to building trust with everyone in our community is of paramount importance to us,” Chief Chris Blue said in a statement posted on the town’s website.
According to ALE spokesperson Erin Bean, special agents conducting a statewide operation Thursday night had “developed reasonable suspicion” that a young man had illegally purchased “malt beverages from the Tar Heel Station.
The special agents approached the man, identified themselves and asked to see his identification. When he refused to comply, he was forced to the ground and arrested near Peace and Justice Plaza across the street from the UNC campus, Bean said.
The man was later identified as a 20-year-old UNC student.
Passersby posted photos of the incident on social media, showing the man face down on the pavement with two agents restraining him. One of the agents appears to have their knee on the man’s buttocks.
Been seeing a lot of posts from the #UNC community about a student who was detained last night at the Peace and Justice Plaza. The incident was with Alcohol and Law Enforcement officers (state agency, not CH Police).
Here is the post with the student account of what happened: pic.twitter.com/JGq2Oc2t2B
— Brighton McConnell (@BrightonMcC1) August 26, 2022
“[The officers] were sitting on his back while he was bleeding and yelling for help. He repeated multiple times that he is a UNC student and hadn’t been read his rights or told what he was being arrested for, but all they did was continue to shout at him to put his hands behind his back and to stay down,” said an Instagram story about the incident reported by chapelboro.com.
Chapel Hill police arrived as the incident was ending and cleared the scene.
“I have heard from many in our community today, including many UNC students, who have questions about the incident and who report that their trust in law enforcement, already strained by the many high-profile national events of the last few years, has further been damaged after learning of this incident,” Blue said in his response Friday.
Blue said his department has no supervisory role over ALE agents or the operation they were carrying out at the time of the incident.
Bean said this use of force, as with all uses of force, will be examined by a Use of Force Review Board. The News & Observer is trying to learn if that is an independent board and if its findings will be made public.
The student was later charged with resist, delay and obstruct a law enforcement officer, possession of a fraudulent identification, purchase of alcoholic beverages with a fraudulent identification, and underage possession of malt beverages.
The encounter was part of a greater operation ALE carried out targeting Alcoholic Beverage Control permitted businesses.
“Throughout the agency’s eight districts, special agents executed four search warrants, seized six firearms, 78 fraudulent identifications, U.S. currency and various types of illegal controlled substances,” the ALE said in a statement. “Of the 189 arrests and 449 charges, 20 were felony charges, 261 were alcohol-related charges, and 80 were drug-related charges.”
Although several local police units across the state were involved, Chapel Hill police were not part of the operation.
The social media backlash from the incident preceded Blue’s response to the incident.
“We believe that building and maintaining trust with everyone we serve is fundamental to a safe community for all,” Blue said. “Any incident that damages that trust is of concern to me and the members of the Chapel Hill Police Department.”
This story was originally published August 29, 2022 3:01 PM.
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