Story and photos by Briana Gomez
Photo: Roger Ogden and Tasha Williamson in verbal confrontation
Updated August 16 with additional comments from Ogden.
August 12, 2020 (La Mesa) -- La Mesa police detained but later released a man with alleged ties to a racist group during a Black Lives Matter protest on Tuesday, following a vocal confrontation with activist Tasha Williamson. LMPD led Roger Ogden into the police station in handcuffs for reportedly displaying pepper spray during the altercation. On his blog, Ogden called Williamson a “terrorist” and called her a "liar" at the rally. Williamson denounced Ogden at the rally as a “racist clown.” Each has denied the others claims of racism and inciting terror. View video.
Despite verbal barbs, at the August 11 rally and an earlier protest on May 1, protesters remained non-violent. Unlike a major protest May 30 that ended in burning of buildings, rioting and looting, the only arrests at the most recent protests were of individuals accused of harassing protesters, both with ties to white nationalist or racist groups. On May 1st, as ECM reported, Ryan McAdams, who has a history of racial clashes, was arrested for battery and pepper spray possession.
A crowd of about 150 protesters assembled outside of the La Mesa Police station on Tuesday, August 11. The protest was organized partially by Williamson, a local activist who received notoriety after being escorted out following inflammatory 2018 testimony before the National City Council at which she suggested making the city “look like Ferguson” at a time when Ferguson, Missouri was engulfed in civil unrest.
Williamson contends she has endured social media harassment from white supremacists and members of Defend East County, which has over 20,000 members on Facebook.
Defend East County, along with a group with a La Mesa Civil Defense Group known as the “yellow vests”, were formed after May 30 protests in La Mesa led to a night of terror including rioting, arson fires that destroyed three buildings, and looting of dozens of businesses--actions committed in part by outsiders who arrived after dark to commit crimes.
The defenders' groups have stated goals to protect businesses and residents from future damage, after LMPD became overwhelmed on May 30. However the defend movement has also attracted racist fringe elements including individuals who have sought to provoke protesters, some engaging in physical violence or racial taunts.
“We will remain peaceful unless met with violence,” Williamson posted on her personal Facebook page before the Aug. 11 meeting.
Some La Mesa residents and business owners joined in Tuesday’s protest. “I want to hold the police accountable; I’m a La Mesa resident and I own a business in the village. I’m not messing around,” said Jessyka Heredia (photo, left) owner of a local hair salon, who was attending the event.
Heredia is also a member of La Mesa Activists for Good Governance, a local group that holds law enforcement and city officials accountable.
Williamson also spoke directly with ECM immediately prior to the event.
“All of our demands have not been met – we have asked for the arrest and charging of officer, or ex-officer Matt Dages,” said Williamson. “We also ask for the firing, arrest, and charging of detective Eric Knudson for the intentional shooting of Leslie Furcron.”
Dages was the officer who arrested Amaurie Johnson near a La Mesa trolley station – a wrongful arrest which prompted the first round of protests in La Mesa. Although charges were dropped on Johnson, activists in the black community feel that more work is needed.
LMPD issued a statement last Friday saying Dages was no longer employed according to reports by NBC 7. Williamson noted that it was unclear whether Dages was fired or resigned voluntarily.
Knudson’s name was released in late July as the officer who fired the beanbag round that struck protester Leslie Furcron in the forehead, seriously injuring her during the May 30 protest at the LMPD station. Body camera footage revealed Furcron had tossed a beverage container toward police before she was struck. LMPD policy prohibits aiming non-lethal weapons above the torso.
“I talked to her family and she’s healing, she’s still going through the recovery – you saw that video, you saw him say ‘I got him’ thinking she was a he, which was the guy that had been throwing rocks,” Williamson noted., “He shot her intentionally but he just shot the wrong person.”
Williamson also held a press conference earlier on Tuesday with Amaurie Johnson. ”He’s healing too, he’s having a difficult time,” she said.
Williamson has pledged to continue holding protests each Tuesday in La Mesa until the rest of her demands are met. She held a sign with a grid that compared the local population of La Mesa with arrests made, by race. This data demonstrates that black individuals are three times more likely to be arrested by the La Mesa police department.
“We are peacefully assembling because that’s what you do when people don’t meet your demands, and it’s been generational, and it’s been egregious…we’ve had death threats launched at us by Defend East County group members, by yellow jacket members, and by Patriot Fire members and other white nationalist hate groups,” Williamson claimed. “If they do believe in patriotism and they believe in the constitution then they should believe that we are human beings and have the same rights that they do.”
Ogden, who clashed with Williams early in the event before being detained, uses the Twitter account @rogerogden and uses the Twitter name Patriot Fire to promote his blog, also called Patriot Fire.
Ogden, has been described by a San Diego ‘antifa’ group blog as a “vile white supremacist who goes under the name Patriot Fire on YouTube.”
Patriot Front is a group that has ties to various ideologies including “anti-Semitism, nativism, and white supremacy,” according to Dr. Thomas Pegelow Kaplan, director of Judaic, Holocaust and Peace Studies at Appalachian State University.
But Ogden denies ties to that organization.
“That’s a name I made up, I don’t know…I’ve never seen anything like that, that’s just the name I pulled out of a hat. I’m not affiliated with any group,” Ogden told East County Magazine.
In a statement sent to ECM, Ogden offered his version of the altercation in La Mesa. "I pulled out pepper spray because I did feel that this crowd was a threat of physical violence to me. I have been assaulted and battered a number of times at events. I found out, if you charge them, the DA most probably will just pigeon hole the complaint and let it expire. So, I started carrying pepper spray and spraying people when they batter me or make threats of doing so. Many people think it is okay just to start ruffing me up and slapping at my camera. So far, I have spayed four people, two of them were Antifa in Mexico at the border crossing. This is the only justice they are likely to get, street justice. If I act in self-defense, I am unlikely to be prosecuted and pepper spray is relatively safe to use, not likely to cause serious injury," he said, adding,"It's a shame that people can't be civil."
In a blog post two months ago, Ogden accused Williamson of threatening to burn down National City and attached the link to the National City Council Meeting in 2018 which sparked controversy at the time.
“I posted a video of [Williamson] in 2018 in front of the National City [City] Council….she was angry with the chief of police, she was demanding that he be fired, she said, ‘You’ll fire him or we’ll shut National City down, it’ll look like Ferguson when we’re done’ which I take as a threat to burn the town down,” said Ogden.
Williamson was responding to the death of Earl McNeil, a National City black man who died in police custody, at that time.
During the Aug. 11 face-off in La Mesa this week, Ogden was confronted directly by Williamson regarding the statements that he made against her via social media and his behavior at an earlier event this month. Williamson tried to speak directly to Ogden but he did not respond to her request.
Other than exchanging disparaging remarks with Williamson, Ogden refused to dialogue with protesters, who surrounded him in a circle, leading one protester to say, “use your words.”
Ogden appeared to be acting alone, although a man in a yellow vest stood on the sidelines. Many of the protesters accused him of being affiliated with another local white supremacist organization. Protesters even clashed with a freelance cameraman who was standing near the unnamed yellow vested individual.
Williamson had to step in and attest to the character of the cameraman, who was not supporting anyone in particular.
Williamson seemed concerned about Defend East County, a group that has caused her tension in the past.
In a video released by the Times of San Diego on August 1, Justin Haskins, originator of Defend East County, addressed his followers saying, “we’re not a crew, a gang, a militia, any kind of a club, Literally it’s just a Facebook group where everybody in the community can get information…that being said I’m not gonna say there aren’t racist people in our community.”
A black Youtuber who goes by the name of Cali Gail was also in attendance but claims that she was treated well by organizer Haskin. Gail interviewed Haskins in a video that was posted two days ago on Youtube.
“I sat down with him in an interview,” she said, “…as you see I’m a Black woman and he was willing to sit with me.”
Williamson feels differently about Haskins. “We have video of Justin…he’s on video two Saturdays ago calling black people terrorists…you can’t blame everybody that comes out to a protest for the burning of buildings.”
ECM tried to reach Haskins for comment but did not receive a reply.
The protest Tuesday ensued with protesters lined up in front of the police station. Eventually a biker group that joined protesters in an orderly fashion, drawing the attention of pedestrians in the area.
Also in attendance at this event was The Peace Watchers, a startup company with an emerging phone app that allows users to mark their location if they’re being taken into custody and don’t feel like their rights are being upheld, or if they’re held by an officer in a situation which they feel is unjust. The app notifies people in their area who can then come to the situation and hold officers accountable.
After some time had passed, Ogden returned to the protest with what appeared to be a friend of his.
“I didn’t know he was gonna be there, it was just someone there that I recognized,” said Ogden who insisted that he was alone and only came for blog footage.
“I wasn’t a counter protester, I didn’t say anything to them in the beginning,” said Ogden, “I didn’t have any signs or any garb of any kind on me, but [Williamson] recognized me, I was taking video for my blog.”
Ogden wrote a blog piece following his arrest, saying that he was a victim of mob aggression.
Ogden told ECM he was detained for only about 40 minutes, and then an investigator drove him to his vehicle and asked him not to return. Ogden says police told him that he did not commit a crime and that he was not charged with anything.
“I think they took me out to protect me but they didn’t say that,” said Ogden who added that he’s a senior citizen and “not that fit”.
According to Autumn, who did not wish to provide her last name, Ogden pointed a yellow pepper spray container at her and another unarmed protester.
“They were getting quite close to me and I pulled out a tube of pepper spray hoping to get them to back off because I felt like they could get violent,” Ogden said to ECM, “the police were there and the policeman took the pepper spray away from me and then they started even getting closer and they were touching me, then a policeman put handcuffs on me and took me to the station.”
Both Autumn and other witnesses cooperated with police to provide witness statements. Ogden claimed he was antagonized and threatened by some of the protesters. Officer Evans was overheard telling Ogden that [Evans] was there the whole time and that the events Ogden described never occurred.
“They did an investigation and they said that I had not committed any crimes,” said Ogden. “I felt they wanted to diffuse the situation.”
After Ogden’s detainment, protesters assembled in front of police officers who stood at the entrance of the station.
A group of young women were particularly heckling Officer Jordan Arnold, who wore a mask representative of the blue lives matter movement, an ideology taken by law enforcement in opposition of the black lives matter catalyst.
“We know you went on Etsy and you got that bootleg ass mask,” said one young woman.
Michael Dawson, a teacher in Lakeside, told Arnold it was unfair that he was able to wear a blue lives matter mask while on the job.
“That’s a political statement. I can’t make a political statement in the classroom,” said Dawson.
Others criticized Arnold’s large salary – Arnold made over $148,000 2017, according to Cal Salaries. Arnold’s salary is 68 percent higher than the average La Mesa salary.
“Is that the price of your soul?” yelled a protester.
Arnold is not publicly known to be part of any controversy.
Neither Arnold nor LMPD responded to ECM or to protesters for comment.
The event concluded promptly and peacefully at 7:30 p.m. Despite heckling remarks, there was no clash between protesters and law enforcement and no escalation of violence. Williamson addressed the crowd telling everyone to get home safe and offering ride shares for those in need.
“They talked about reconciliation. If La Mesa really feels like they are about reconciliation then they should sit down with the families and their attorneys, sit down with Amaurie and his attorney, sit down with Leslie Furcron and her attorney and reconcile, make it right!” Williamson told ECM. “It’s not just La Mesa police culture; all police culture needs to change.”
She concluded, “How many Black lives have to be disproportionately impacted before ALL of San Diego County shows up? It’s time they invest in communities as heavily as they invested in police.”
Briana Gomez holds an MBA from the University of La Verne and a Bachelor of Science in International Business from Azusa Pacific University. A freelance journalist, she is originally from La Mesa and lived in Japan for five years in her youth. She later took an interest in travelling and learning about global cultures and cultural identities She taught English in Hungary in 2013 before obtaining her master’s degree, then returning to the U.S. to pursue journalism and research multicultural communication.
Gomez has written for online and local publications in Budapest and in her native San Diego, including coverage in East County Magazine on multicultural communities. She is passionate about human rights and minority issues, bringing awareness to ethnic groups in our region. She also sits on the committee for the Arab and Muslim Community Coalition and is an active member of the San Diego Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee and San Diego House of Lebanon.
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