Alcohol Law Enforcement agents with the state division charged a UNC student in Chapel Hill Thursday night for purchasing alcohol with a fake ID — before a photo of the incident sparked confusion and criticism on social media.
A statement from the Alcohol Law Enforcement Division to Chapelboro on Friday said ALE special agents worked in Chapel Hill on the night of August 25 during a “statewide enforcement operation.” While on East Franklin Street during the evening, ALE said special agents “developed reasonable suspicion” that 20-year-old Alexander Sumner illegally purchased malt beverages at the Tar Heel Station convenience store.
The ALE statement said Sumner, who is a UNC student, did not produce identification or stop when asked by the agents to do so.
“Due to Sumner’s continued resistance,” read the statement from ALE Public Information Officer Erin Bean, “the agents notified Sumner he was under arrest and placed him on the ground in order to apply handcuffs. Sumner did not report any injuries, and the agents did not observe any injuries to Sumner.”
The state-run division levied four charges against Sumner: resisting a law enforcement officer, possession of a fraudulent identification, purchase of alcoholic beverages with a fraudulent identification and underage possession of malt beverages.
A photo shared on Instagram depicting ALE’s detainment of Sumner claims law enforcement did not tell the UNC student why he was being detained. The photo did not specify Sumner’s age or his purchase of alcohol, but showed the student on the ground underneath the two special agents. As the photo circulated, Sumner’s treatment drew outrage from UNC students and community members on social media — with some writing complaints to the Chapel Hill Police Department, believing the ALE special agents were involved with the town.
Police Chief Chris Blue shared a statement Friday afternoon addressing these concerns and clarifying that his department has “no supervisory role over ALE agents nor can we influence their operations.”
Blue also added that he hopes to continue hearing feedback from students about Chapel Hill Police’s role in community safety and to work on repairing any damaged trust in law enforcement.
“While I cannot speak to the details of the encounter because I do not have them, 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. 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. To those students, I say thank you for your questions. We believe that building and maintaining trust with everyone we serve is fundamental to a safe community for all. Any incident that damages that trust is of concern to me and the members of the Chapel Hill Police Department.”
Bean told Chapelboro the use of force against Sumner “will be documented and reviewed by both supervision and a use of force review board.”
In addition to charging Sumner, Alcohol Law Enforcement found several other violations while in Chapel Hill on Thursday night. The East Rosemary Street bar Buena Vibra was cited for selling alcoholic beverages to an underage customer, while the nightclub Still Life had an underage employee found in possession of fraudulent identification and consuming alcohol while performing services for the business. Additionally, ALE said an employee at GoodFellows on East Franklin Street illegally possessed liquor on the premises and was found to be drinking while working for the bar.
In total, ALE reported seizing 22 fake IDs in Chapel Hill on Thursday night, as well as 24 bottles of liquor from a purchase at an ABC store made by underage patrons. The statement shared with Chapelboro did not specify whether any other underage patrons involved in violations were charged or handled with force like agents did with Sumner.
Across North Carolina, the state Department of Public Safety said ALE special agents reported 189 arrests and 449 charges during their crackdown operation Thursday night. Businesses cited with violations will have reports submitted to the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, who will determine whether there should be fines, suspensions or revocations of ABC permits.
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