By Miriam Raftery
December 10, 2020 (La Mesa) – The city of La Mesa today revealed that before retiring, Police Chief Walt Vasquez terminated the employment of Officer Matt Dages. Dages was fired due to his actions during the controversial stop of Amaurie Johnson at a trolley station on May 27. Three days later, on May 30, a protest against La Mesa Police erupted into a night of looting, rioting and the burning down of three buildings.
Dages had accused Johnson, 23, of assault but the charge was dropped after body camera footage failed to substantiate Officer Dages' version of the incident. A video that went viral on social media prompted accusations of racial profiling by Dages.
Dages claimed to have stopped Johnson, who is Black, for smoking in a prohibited area. Body camera footage shows Dages, who is White, pushing Johnson into a seated position and grabbing Johnson's shirt; Johnson's fingertips touched the officer for a brief moment. No smoking materials were found in a search of Johnson, who said he was waiting on a ride that arrived during the altercation.
Johnson has since filed a lawsuit against the city of La Mesa and Dages seeking damages. The Johnson stop occurred just days after the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a White police officer in Minneapolis prompted national protests and civil unrest.
After the Johnson incident, protests over the next several weeks called for Dages to be fired, an action already in the works.
According to a press release issued by the city today, Chief Vasquez terminated Dages’ employment on August 7, after several months of first complying with required legal protocols and procedures including an external investigation by independent investigators. The city announced on August 8 that Dages was no longer employed by the city, but did not state the reason, due to legal requirements protecting police officers during the appeals period. Chief Vasquez retired on August 27.
On August 14, Dages appealed the termination to the Personnel Appeals Board of the City of La Mesa. The appeal hearing, which was closed to the public on the request of Dages pursuant to Government Code Section 54957, concluded on December 9.
“The Board upheld the decision of the Police Chief to terminate the employment of Dages.” The city’s press release states. The Board’s decision is final and no further appeal is available through the City (including an appeal to the City Council).
The city indicated that Dages’ disciplinary records will be released publicly following review of the records for any legally required redactions.