Witnesses to the controversial arrest of a Black man at a trolley stop in La Mesa last year testified as prosecutors began laying out their evidence against the fired police officer charged with falsifying a police report.
Former LMPD officer Matt Dages has pleaded not guilty to falsifying a report in the arrest of Amaurie Johnson near the Grossmont trolley station on May 27, 2020.
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.
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.
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.
More witnesses were expected to take the stand as the preliminary hearing progressed. A judge will then decide if there's enough evidence for a trial.
If the trial proceeds, Dages could face three years in prison if convicted.
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.