The preliminary hearing for former La Mesa Police Department Officer Matt Dages finished Wednesday with the court ruling there was enough evidence allowing Dages to stand trial for filing a false police report in the arrest of Amaurie Johnson.
The hearing, which began Tuesday, started with witnesses testifying to the controversial arrest of Johnson near the Grossmont trolley station on May 27, 2020.
The first witness to take the stand during Dages' preliminary hearing on Tuesday was LMPD Detective Julie Jensen, who had organized a trolley fare enforcement operation for May 27, 2020.
Four officers were out that day ensuring that people riding the Metropolitan Transit System trolley had their fares paid and were following laws.
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Jensen testified that Dages told her he thought Johnson was smoking on the trolley platform and that Johnson pushed him on the arm to go past him.
She told prosecutors she forgot to turn on her body camera right away but when she arrived, Johnson was standing too close to Dages, which means he could have had access to the officer's weapons or to use force on an officer.
During a search, she testified, she never saw drug paraphernalia on Johnson.
When asked why Johnson was never charged with smoking, Jensen explained that when a small infraction leads to a larger one, they don't cite for the smaller infraction.
Jensen also testified that as they placed Johnson in the police car, she heard him say "but you put your hands on me first," which she took to mean Johnson was admitting to touching Dages.
On Wednesday, Johnson took the witness stand and testified that he was waiting for his friends to come to pick him up. He said when Dages approached him, he started asking him questions about why he was there. Johnson said even though he felt uncomfortable, he complied. He said at some point, Dages told him he was going to run his name to check for any outstanding warrants.
Johnson said Dages then ushered him to a bench where he told him to sit down, and call his friends to make sure they were coming.
He said once his friends arrived, he figured he could leave since Dages had nothing on him. But that's when he says Dages pushed him down. He said as they struggled -- he asked Dages if he felt threatened by him.
“I was trying to get him to open up, speak to me, so if, you know, the whole time he was being defensive and stuff like that I thought maybe if I offered him you know something, to kinda like make him feel as though we could speak, that he would open up and kinda tell me as to why he was harassing me and chose to detain me,” Johnson testified.
An investigator for the District Attorney's office also testified saying he interviewed a bus driver who was working that day. He said the witness corroborated Johnson's account and said she didn't understand why Dages stopped him, since all he was doing was talking on his phone.
Dages has pleaded not guilty to falsifying a report in the arrest of Johnson near the Grossmont trolley station.
Dages, a three-year veteran of the force, accused Johnson of smoking on the trolley platform, leading to a confrontation between the two men.
In bystander video and body-worn camera footage released during an investigation, Dages can be seen pushing Johnson to sit before his arrest on charges of resisting and assaulting an officer.
The arrest, first captured on video by a friend of Johnson's and posted on social media, brought to San Diego a nationwide movement that called for police accountability and racial justice in the wake of George Floyd's death. Activists have pointed out that the arrest of Johnson highlights the targeting of Black men by law enforcement in the U.S.
Eventually, charges were dropped against Johnson and a charge was instead filed against Dages for falsifying a police report. District Attorney Summer Stephan said Dages mischaracterized Johnson's actions that day.
Stephan released a statement following the hearing saying in part, "As prosecutors, we follow the evidence and the law when making charging decisions. When crimes are committed by police officers in a position of public trust, we have a duty to hold those individuals accountable when we are able to prove criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt.”
While Dages was fired from his position in the department after the allegations surfaced of falsified records, Dages filed an appeal request to get his job back.
Johnson has filed a federal lawsuit against the city and Dages alleging excessive force, negligence and violence due to his race.
A court arraignment has been set for Aug. 24.