Story updated Dec. 2, 2014
A University of Virginia student who was arrested and spent a night in jail after a law enforcement officer mistook a grocery item even kids can consume for beer has won a settlement.
Elizabeth Daly had filed a lawsuit against the state in response to her April 2013 arrest by Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) agents. Attorneys for the 20-year-old coed sought “unspecified damages,” according to legal filings in the case. Her purchase? A case of water.
In June of this year, U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson allowed most of Daly’s case to proceed. Weeks later, the state of Virginia reached a settlement with her in which she will receive $212,500 and a “letter from the Alcoholic Beverage Control board explaining the circumstances of her arrest to present to any future employers,” according to NBC29.com
The circumstances of her arrest are almost beyond belief.
No less than six plainclothes ABC agents surrounded Elizabeth Daly and two of her sorority sisters in a shopping mall parking lot, according to the Daily Progress. One officer drew his gun and allegedly tried to break a window of the SUV as the panicked girls sat inside. According to the legal filing, at least one officer jumped onto the hook of the vehicle, as well. The college students were understandably afraid and thought they were being attacked by criminals.
Daly pulled away abruptly, allegedly grazing two of the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control agents in the process. The young woman was ultimately arrested on three felony charges. The counts levied against her included eluding police and assaulting law enforcement officers. She spent nearly 24 hours in n Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail.
The ABC agents thought the blue carton of LaCroix sparkling water was actually a 12-pack of beer.
Daly said in a written account:
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. They began trying to break the windows. My roommates and I were … terrified. This has been an extremely trying experience. It is something to this day I cannot understand or believe it has come to this point.
Virginia prosecutors reportedly acknowledged that Daly “apologized profusely” once she became aware that the men shouting, jumping on her SUV, and attempting to break the window, were indeed officers.
Late last fall the charges against Daly were dropped and her record was expunged. After an internal review of the arrest, the Virginia ABC agency opted to implement 15 procedural and policy changes. Daly’s legal action was filed under the Virginia Tort Claims Act, a provision which allows a person to hold a state agency or employee liable under a limited set of circumstances, Daily Progress reported.
“Not that many complaints are big issues like this one,” said Virginia Department of Treasury Director Don Lemond. “Most are relatively innocuous. Most of our claims are transportation related, or come from prisoners. … The law firm she [Daly] is using is very experienced in dealing with the commonwealth.”
Elizabeth Daly called 911 to report what had happened immediately after she drove away from the shopping center parking lot. She was reportedly on her way to the police station to give a full report when once of the ABC agents, now in a vehicle complete with lights and sirens, pulled her over.
Daly and her sorority sisters had just left a “Take Back the Night” vigil at the college where sexual assault survivors had shared their stories and offered safety tips for young women. She was purchasing bottled water, ice cream and cookie dough.