Content warning: This article contains mentions of violent use of force by law enforcement.
On Thursday, Aug. 25, at around 8:30 p.m., two Alcohol Law Enforcement agents arrested UNC junior Alexander Sumner, 20, on Franklin Street with what eyewitnesses described as unnecessary force.
The ALE agents charged Sumner with purchasing alcohol with a fake ID – as well as resisting, delaying and obstructing a law enforcement officer.
Georgia Queen, a UNC sophomore, was walking to Bandido's when she heard screams for help. As she got closer, she said she saw that two large men were trying to arrest a person, so she began to take a video of the situation.
"They were completely on top of him and they were telling him to stop resisting," Queen said. "He kept over and over asking what he was being arrested for."
Jordan Walker, a UNC senior, and her friend Tess O'Neill also witnessed the incident. Walker said when they arrived, they saw the agents kneeling on Sumner.
"I just don't know why they used so much force with him," O'Neill said.
Echoing Queen, Walker said that Sumner kept saying that he did not know what he was being arrested for and that the agents had not read him his rights.
"We couldn't tell if the people arresting him were actually officers or not because they wore plain clothes – they didn't have any uniforms on and we couldn't see any badges," Walker said.
As other people began to stop at the scene, Queen said an eyewitness called the Chapel Hill Police Department. Walker noted that many people walked past the arrest without acknowledging it.
O'Neill said that once the situation began to de-escalate, she noticed that the group of witnesses was mainly composed of minorities.
"It was upsetting that all those people walked by and the only people in the crowd were basically all Black people and Asian people," she said. "If no one stopped, I don't know if things would have ended the same way."
When the CHPD arrived, Walker and Queen said the situation had de-escalated and the agents stopped touching Sumner, who was sitting handcuffed.
Walker explained that the police officer spoke with the ALE officers and the eyewitnesses at the scene.
"I felt like there wasn't anything, at that moment, that I could do but stand there in case it got worse than it was," Queen said.
Walker and O'Neill remained at the scene until a few minutes after 9 p.m.
"As a Black woman, it's not surprising because you know that it happens everywhere, but you just don't expect it to happen on your campus – let alone right in front of you," Walker said.
Walker posted an image of the arrest on her Instagram story with captions detailing what she witnessed. The image began to be reposted across social media, as UNC students and community members expressed outrage at Sumner’s treatment.
As more people became aware of the arrest, some linked complaint forms to both the ALE and CHPD on their social media.
According to an email statement from the ALE, Sumner "refused to stop or comply with any instructions given by ALE and pulled away from agents multiple times. Due to Sumner’s continued resistance, the agents notified Sumner he was under arrest and placed him on the ground in order to apply handcuffs."
Erin Bean, the ALE public information officer, said in the statement that the use of force will be reviewed by "supervision and a use of force review board."
ALE is a statewide division of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. The CHPD does not have a supervisory role over ALE agents or operations.
In a statement on Friday, Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said the department had received a large number of complaints about the incident.
"I want to be clear that this incident was not part of a CHPD operation," Blue said in the statement. "Our officers were called to the scene by passers-by, arrived as the encounter was ending and cleared the scene shortly thereafter. We have no supervisory role over ALE agents nor can we influence their operations."
Blue said he heard from UNC students who expressed that their trust in law enforcement was damaged by the incident.
Sumner has not provided comment to The Daily Tar Heel at this time for legal reasons.
The DTH will continue to report on the story as it develops.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.