La Mesa

Amaurie Johnson Files Suit Against City of La Mesa, LMPD Officer

Johnson, 23, was arrested on May 27 by La Mesa police while waiting for a friend near a Grossmont Trolley stop

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Amaurie Johnson, the La Mesa man whose videotaped arrest near a bus stop in La Mesa went viral in the week running up to the police protests in San Diego County, has filed suit against the city of La Mesa, La Mesa Police Department Officer Matt Dages and six John Does.

The suit, filed on Wednesday, alleges Johnson was arrested without probable cause and further alleges negligence, excessive force, violence because of race and Monell liability.

It alleges negligence against the city of La Mesa, Officer Dages and "Does 1" because they breached the duty to exercise ordinary care and prudence in their conduct and actions.

“Officer Dages and Does 1 breached the duty they owed to Mr. Johnson to exercise ordinary care by arresting Mr. Johnson for doing nothing more than standing by an apartment complex,” the suit said.

The suit claims the City of La Mesa is "vicariously liable for the damages on Mr. Johnson's state law claims because the officers were acting within the course and scope of their employment with the city of La Mesa."

The lawsuit states Dages and "Does 1-6" violated Johnson's Fourth amendment.

"The excessive force is evidenced by repeatedly pushing Mr. Johnson, placing him in an arm bar, pushing his body onto concrete, and being strong-armed by two officers in order to be handcuffed."

The suit claims violence because of Johnson's race, stating that because Johnson is a Black male and was wearing athletic gear the day of his arrest and was standing in front of a luxury apartment complex, Dages contacted him for those reasons alone.

"Officer Dages refused to believe that the black man in athletic gear would have friends that live in a luxury apartment complex. Officer Dages challenged Mr. Johnson to call his friends to prove his reason for being there. This conduct was done on reasons rooted in the fact that Mr. Johnson is black," the suit says.

Johnson, 23, was arrested on May 27 by La Mesa police while waiting for a friend near a Grossmont Trolley stop.

In one of the videos released by police, Johnson’s friend approached officers to explain that Johnson was waiting for him to come back from the grocery store.

This is one of eight bodycam videos released by the La Mesa Police Department showing the arrest of Amaurie Johnson. This is the bodycam video on the arresting officer. The first couple of seconds are muted.

"(Johnson) is coming to my house,” he can be heard telling police officers on the body-cam video. "As we pull up, (a police officer) is already questioning him like he is in the wrong, like he's not supposed to be here.”

Johnson was arrested for what Dages originally described as smoking in public, resisting arrest and assaulting an officer. But after an internal review of body camera footage, interviews with the six responding officers and the disclosure that no smoking materials were found on Johnson, all charges were dropped.

“That is indicative of the general African-American experience in America for the most part," Johnson told NBC 7 anchor Mark Mullen in an interview last week at the location where he was arrested. "You can be doing the right thing. You can be compliant, you can not be doing anything at all waiting for a friend outside of their apartment and get taken off to jail.”

In both the social media video and body camera video released by LMPD, Dages and Johnson can be seen arguing. Johnson is heard telling the officer he was waiting for someone. At one point, Dages pushes Johnson onto a bench. More officers arrive.

Johnson's recorded arrest spread on social media and helped mobilize thousands to turn out in La Mesa and elsewhere to protest racial profiling and the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, which had happened only days before.

While most of the protestors in La Mesa were peaceful, there were some in the crowd that started throwing rocks and bottles at police, who responded by firing beanbag rounds into the crowd, injuring a grandmother and others attending the rally. In later hours, some looted businesses and started fires.

Johnson and community activists who spoke with NBC 7 earlier this month said they were still waiting for the department to make substantial changes to its culture and practices.

On July 28, La Mesa police chief Walt Vasquez said he had finished reviewing an investigation into Johnson's arrest but did not provide any insight into his conclusions, citing due process.

"The remaining due process steps required by California law will be concluded as soon as possible," Vasquez said. "California law also requires that I refrain from commenting on the details of the report, conclusions of the investigation, or my recommendations at this time."

Dages, a three-year veteran of the force, has been placed on administrative leave while the independent review was being conducted. The department has not said if Dages' status has changed.

Johnson is being represented by the Law Office of Troy P. Owens, Jr.

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