La Mesa

La Mesa Man at Center of Controversial Arrest Waiting for Answers

NBCUniversal, Inc.

It's been almost two months since Amaurie Johnson, 23, was arrested by La Mesa police while waiting for a friend near a bus stop.

His recorded arrest spread on social media and helped mobilize thousands to turn out and protest racial profiling and heavy-handed policing.

“That is indicative of the general African-American experience in America for the most part," Johnson told NBC 7 in an interview 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.”

Johnson was arrested by La Mesa Police for what an officer 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.

But a fuse was lit. Thousands converged on La Mesa to protest the arrest of Johnson, and the killing of George Floyd in police custody which had happened only days before.

“I’ll be honest with you: When I saw the protests, I was very happy just because I appreciate when people use their voice to create change,” Johnson said.

But while most of the protestors were peaceful, there were some in the crowd that started throwing rocks and bottles at police who responded firing bean bag rounds into the crowd injuring a grandmother attending the rally. In later hours, some looted businesses and started fires.

“Of course, you’re not happy when you see damage being done," Johnson said.

Johnson and community stakeholders have anxiously been awaiting the results of an independent review of the arrest incident, and what disciplinary action the arresting officer could face. Also, it’s hoped the findings will prompt positive changes in police culture and practices.

“La Mesa is not a bad place. But at the least with this whole situation and the climate that is going on, I think we need some reforms," Johnson said.

The La Mesa City Council is considering whether to advance to voters a ballot measure to create an independent police review board. La Mesa PD also joined with 14 other local police agencies in banning the carotid restraint.

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

Contact Us