George Floyd

La Mesa Residents Comment on Protest During Virtual Town Hall

Residents called in and submitted comments on their reaction to the protest that turned violent back in May.

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The city of La Mesa held a virtual town hall meeting Thursday night, giving residents a chance to ask questions and voice concerns about the city's handling of a large protest for racial justice, sparked by George Floyd's killing and the controversial arrest of Amaurie Johnson on May 30.

This was the first time citizens were able to speak out about the events in an organized forum.

"This town hall tonight, like I said, is just the beginning of what will be multiple discussions," said City Councilmember Akilah Weberso. "Even though we don't have all the answers at this time, this will not be the last time that we come and hear your concerns and tell you what we know and what we've done to make change."

Dozens of residents called in or emailed. Some of the topics discussed included police reform, community relations with the police and use of force.

The large protest was organized in the city of La Mesa on May 30 in the wake of George Floyd's killing on Memorial Day. The Black man's death underneath the knee of a Minneapolis police officer sparked a national movement for racial equality that breached into San Diego County in the weeks that followed.

The demonstration started in the afternoon and, while boisterous, remained mostly peaceful throughout the day as protesters marched through the city and onto Interstate 8, halting traffic in both directions, before returning to La Mesa Police Department headquarters.

NBC 7 Investigates' Alexis Rivas follows up on a controversial arrest and the bean-bag shooting of a protester, as well as the department's history with the use of force

But tensions began to rise as the evening progressed. Some people in the crowd began to throw rocks and bottles, while officers in tactical gear surrounded the police headquarters and deployed tear gas, flash bangs and bean bag rounds. 

Some people took advantage of the rising tensions between demonstrators and police by setting banks and vehicles ablaze and looting stores. At one point, La Mesa City Hall and a Heartland Fire & Rescue vehicle were on fire.

A citywide curfew was put into place, and police told the crowd they needed to disperse or be arrested for unlawful assembly.

At one point, a La Mesa Police Department officer fired a bean bag round after what law enforcement said what was likely a can was thrown towards officers. The round struck 59-year-old Leslie Furcron in the face, and she spent several weeks in the ICU to recover.

After weeks of calls to do so, LMPD identified the officer involved as Detective Eric Knudson and released their own body-camera footage of that day.

The events that occurred on May 30 are now being reviewed by a Chicago-based firm, Hillard Heintze, after approval from the city council on Tuesday. The same firm is also looking into the killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky by officers in a botched raid back in March.

The public also submitted comments addressing the arrest of Amaurie Johnson by a former La Mesa police officer. Some protesters on May 30 said the caught-on-video arrest was another reason for the Saturday demonstration against racial injustice.

Multiple incidents involving La Mesa police are now under investigation, including a controversial arrest near a trolley station last week (pictured) and the serious injury of a woman shot by a beanbag during Saturday's police protests. reports NBC 7's Bridget Naso.

The 23-year-old was stopped near the Grossmont Trolley Station in La Mesa while waiting for a friend. The arresting officer said Johnson was stopped for smoking on the platform, which was not allowed.

But all charges were dropped 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.

Johnson has since filed suit against LMPD and the arresting officer for negligence, excessive force and violence because of race.

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.

Chief Vasquez also announced his retirement during the town hall, effective August 27.

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