By Miriam Raftery
Photo by Kendra Sitton
July 31, 2020 (La Mesa) – Amaurie Johnson, 23, whose controversial arrest near the Grossmont Trolley station sparked protests and accusations of racial profiling, has filed a law suit against the city of La Mesa and arresting officer Matt Dages.
On May 27, La Mesa Police have stated that Johnson, who is Black, was stopped for smoking in public and later arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest. After a May 30-31 protest and civil unrest, police later released footage from multiple body cameras which largely failed to back up the officer’s claims, showing Johnson touch Officer Dages, who is White, for a fleeting moment after Dages had grabbed Johnson by the shirt and Johnson vociferously objected.
LMPD announced that it would not pursue prosecution of Johnson and dropped the charges.
According to the lawsuit filed in federal court, the officer lacked probable cause for the arrest. (A search of Dages failed to find any smoking materials or illegal substances). The suit also contends that Johnson was the target of police violence due to his race.
Specifically, the suit alleges that Johnson tried to walk away form the officer when friends arrived to pick him up. The suit states that he was pushed, had his arm “violently grabbed” , his body “forcefully jerked” and that he was “aggressively pushed into a seating position.”
In addition, the suit claims the city has been negligent by creating “an atmosphere of lawlessness and discrimination, encouraging excessive force by its officers” and has failed to discipline officers or investigate citizen complaints of alleged excessive use of force.
The city of La Mesa does not comment on pending litigation. Officer Dages has been placed on administrative leave during an investigation that continues.
The trolley stop incident with Johnson occurred just days after nationwide protests had begun over the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer The Minneapolis officer who pressed a knee onto Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes is facing a murder charge; three other officers present are also facing serious charges.
In La Mesa, multiple protesters have filed claims over injuries allegedly suffered during the May 30-31 protest and ensuing riot in La Mesa, including Leslie Furcron, who was struck in the head with a beanbag and seriously injured. Police body cam footage shows Furcron hurled an object at officers moments before La Mesa Detective Eric Knudson fired the beanbag round that resulted in her hospitalization. This incident also remains under investigation.
The city previously settled a claim filed by a young woman shown on a viral video in early 2018 being knocked to the ground while handcuffed by an LMPD school resource officer at Helix High School. An internal and outside investigation of that incident found the officer did not violate police procedures. The officer remained on the force, but was transferred out of serving in public schools.