By Alexa Oslowski
February 7, 2021 (La Mesa) – In response to community concerns following several controversial police use-of-force incidents, the La Mesa City Council selected members for the 11-person Community Police Oversight Board at the Jan. 12 Council meeting.
The Oversight Board’s main purpose is to “serve as an advisory body to the Chief of Police, Mayor, City Council, and City Manager on the administration of the La Mesa Police Department and on matters of public safety within the City,” according to City documents. The board will work with an independent police auditor to investigate serious incidents and misconduct complaints involving La Mesa police officers.
The newly selected Oversight Board members and their positions are:
- Patricia Dillard, Leroy Johnson, Caitlin Tiffan and Gustavo Munoz for the four Police beats
- Brandon Kertson as the faith-based community member
- Michael McWilliams as the La Mesa Business Community representative
- Janet Castanos as Helix Charter High School Employee or Designee
- Robert Duff for the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District Employee or Designee
- Ana Fuentes as the young-adult-aged 18-30 representative
- Brain Smith as the over-62 years-old representative
- Yashica Sylvester will serve as the advocate for community members experiencing social issues, such as homelessness, substance abuse or mental health issues
La Mesa City Council received over 60 applications for these positions. Five members will be randomly selected to serve a one-year term and the remaining six members will serve a two-year term. In October 2020, La Mesa City Council voted 3-2 in favor of creating the Community Police Oversight Board. In the January 12 council meeting, each applicant had three minutes to present to the City Council. The City Council voted unanimously on January 26 to approve the nominations for the board members.
“We do have everyone’s applications and there is a wealth of talent,” Mayor Mark Arapostathis said at the council meeting. “Please continue to want to serve our community.”
La Mesa has been pushing for more police oversight since the January 2018 incident where a police officer was taped body-slamming a black 17-year-old Helix High School girl, KPBS reported. The incident resulted in nearly a hundred students walking out of school and calling for LMPD to receive de-escalation training.
On May 27, 2020, just a few days after George Floyd was killed, Amaurie Johnson was arrested at a La Mesa trolley stop and later had false charges brought up against him. The police officer who falsified the arrest charges, Matt Dages, was later fired from LMPD and charged with one felony count of filing a false report.
During a protest that turned violence on May 30 outside the LMPD station, LMPD and Sheriff officers fired non-lethal weapons that resulted in several injuries and at least two lawsuits against the city.
Following these events, a task force recommended the creation of this committee.
On January 26, Hillard Heintze released a full report regarding the lack of preparation from the police during the May 30-31 protests that devolved into riots. They made 13 recommendations to the LMPD, and the Acting Chief of Police Matt Nicholass released a statement addressing each recommendation at the end of the report.
As of now, the Community Police Oversight Board is set to meet every other week.