CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (RNN) – The community that surrounds the University of Virginia is rallying around a college student who was arrested and charged with three felonies for what Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control officers thought was an underage purchase of beer.
The incident occurred on April 11 around 10 p.m., when 20-year-old Elizabeth Daly and two roommates were leaving a local Harris Teeter grocery store with a handful of products, including a case of La Croix sparkling water.
While returning to their car, she was approached by people she could not identify. The pair - a man and a woman - turned out to be two plainclothes Virginia ABC officers, according to The Daily Progress.
"They were showing unidentifiable badges after they approached us, but we became frightened, as they were not in anything close to a uniform. I couldn't put my windows down unless I started my car, and when I started my car they began yelling to not move the car, not to start the car," Daly said in a published statement.
She said the officers were trying to break the windows of her car, and that she and her roommates were "terrified."
"One of the men then drew a gun in plain view of all three of us. Our panic heightened," Daly said. The Daily Progress also reports that "Another jumped onto the hood of the car."
As the situation escalated, Daly began to drive to a police station, "grazing" two ABC officers with her SUV.
Daly spent the night in jail and was charged with three counts, including assault and battery of two law enforcement officers and eluding police – all felonies. Those charges, which carry a maximum total sentence of 15 years in prison, were dropped on June 28. Daly was handcuffed without receiving explanation of her charges or knowing who was arresting her until a police officer arrived, The Daily Press said.
"We called 911, as we have been taught to do if you were ever unsure of the validity of people saying they are law enforcement," Daly's statement said.
According to the 911 tape obtained by WVIR in Charlottesville, VA, the young women were confused and panicked by the situation. The 911 operator told her to stop, confirming that the people were officers with arresting power. The 911 operator eventually spoke with an ABC officer.
"All right, well, everybody is showing badges and everything and she's standing right in front of them and they pulled out and try to run over people," ABC agent John Taylor said in the phone call.
The University of Virginia students had left an event called "Taking Back the Night", where victims of sexual assault speak to college women about safety from strangers. They were purchasing things for an Alzheimer's Association benefit following the event.
The incident has been reviewed and investigated by the Virginia ABC.
In its initial statement made June 28 on its Facebook page, the Virginia ABC said agents were working in the area to catch underage alcohol customers and enforce the law.
"An agent observed what appeared to be an underage person in possession of what appeared to be a case of beer, and approached her to investigate," read a statement from the Virginia ABC. "The agent identified herself as a police officer and was displaying her badge."
The statement says that the young women did not comply when approached initially, and the first agent was joined with others. The statement said that Daly attempted to drive off, and struck two officers.
"She was not arrested for possessing bottled water, but for running from police and striking two of them with a vehicle," the statement said. "The agents were acting upon reasonable suspicion and this whole unfortunate incident could have been avoided had the occupants complied with law enforcement requests. We take all citizen complaints seriously and the matter is currently under review by the ABC Bureau of Law Enforcement."
The Virginia ABC said that at least six officers were involved in the incident.
The incident has even popped up on the petition website Change.org, where signers asked for the Virginia ABC to issue an apology and for the firing of the officers involved. "Finally, we ask the ABC to take steps to improve transparency and accountability in their undercover enforcement operations," the statement said.
Daly's family is deciding whether they will file suit against the Virginia ABC and questioning their policies.
Follow me on Twitter @TanitaG_RNN.
Copyright 2013 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.