Amid public backlash over its response to the May 30 demonstrations, the city of La Mesa’s police department has released its timeline depicting the events that unfolded during San Diego’s most violent and chaotic protest.
That timeline depicts demonstrators as the aggressors and the city’s police force -- in conjunction with platoons from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, California Highway Patrol, and officers from cities throughout the county -- trying to keep the public safe while getting hit by bottles and rocks.
City officials released the timeline as public criticism over the department’s use of beanbag projectiles, tear gas and pepper balls reached a boiling point. The use of those items resulted in one woman nearly losing an eye after getting struck by a beanbag round to her face, as well as injuries to others, including an 18-year-old man whose head required five staples after he, too, was hit by a non-lethal beanbag round.
According to the La Mesa Police Department’s timeline of events, the city’s police force had prepared for large-scale protests over the May 30 weekend. Cities across the nation were getting ready as well. La Mesa, however, was a magnet for a mass demonstration after a video of a 23-year-old black man getting arrested circulated on social media.
The video and subsequently released police body cam video show La Mesa Police Officer Matt Dages detaining Amaurie Johnson near a light-rail stop in La Mesa. Johnson was waiting for friends outside their apartment complex when Dages arrived and began questioning him. The interaction, however, soon turned physical when Johnson’s friends arrived and he attempted to leave. The video shows Dages pushing Johnson onto a bench and later arresting him for battery on an officer.
The posting of Johnson’s arrest video came just days after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
Local tensions erupted in the large protest on May 30, which saw protestors take over Interstate 8 and, later, local shopping centers, where several local businesses were eventually looted, as was a nearby Vons. But it was the police department’s response to the La Mesa protest, however, that gained national attention.
On Tuesday, La Mesa Police Chief Walt Vasquez released the police department’s timeline of events.
“We saw what was occurring throughout the nation," Vasquez said. "The night before, a police station had been burned down to the ground in Minneapolis."
Not long after the demonstration in La Mesa began, Vasquez said, he began to see troubling signs that the protest could turn violent.
“There were acts of vandalism that started to occur on the freeway,” Vasquez said.
As for the demonstrators, such as the 59-year-old grandmother Leslie Furcron, who was shot in the forehead with a beanbag round, Vasquez said that Furcron was the instigator.
“We did know that someone had been hit in the crowd, after a projectile was thrown at us," Vasquez said. "I believe it was a can.”
Furcron’s sons, however, had a different version of events.
"If I commit a crime, I'm going to jail," said Ahmad Furcron during a June 2 news conference. "No ifs, ands or buts about it.'
Ahmad said that even if his mother threw a can or bottle, it doesn't mean she should be shot for it.
"Whoever that was needs to stand and [be] held accountable for it," Ahmad said last week. "That's attempted murder. My mom was shot between the eyes -- 59 years old, protesting. She doesn't have the right to protest?''
As for Leslie Furcron, she was released from the hospital Tuesday. She and her attorney, Dante Pride, will be making a statement Wednesday morning in front of La Mesa City Hall.
In regard to the May 30 demonstration turning violent, protest organizer KC Short said that the actions of a small minority of demonstrators should not tarnish the overarching message.
"I want people to know that there are other people who come into these protests to antagonize people and to go out there and vandalize things, and to go loot, and they are not people who are part of the protest," said Short.