The city of La Mesa, which has been shrouded in controversy this year for their handling of several incidents involving members of the community and police, voted Wednesday to create a citizens board to oversee their police department.
The La Mesa City Council voted 3-2 to establish a Citizen Police Oversight Board (CPOB) and create a new Independent Police Auditor position.
The oversight board will consist of 11 voting members appointed by the Mayor for a term of two years. It will include representatives from each of four policing jurisdictions, a faith-based member and a business member. There will also be members representing Helix Charter High School, the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District, a young adult, a homeless or mental health activist and a senior.
Those chosen will not be members of law enforcement or members of their family currently or over the last five years.
The board will, however, interact regularly with La Mesa's chief of police, a seat which is now vacant following Chief Walt Vasquez' retirement announcement.
The city said the process to establish an oversight board was first brought up in Oct. 2019, months before the La Mesa Police Department found themselves the target of calls for police accountability.
In late May, as anger over the killing of George Floyd underneath the knee of a Minneapolis police officer flooded the U.S. with calls for racial equality, the La Mesa Police Department found themselves answering to community members outraged by what they described as racial profiling closer to home.
The arrest of Amaurie Johnson on May 27 near an MTS trolley station in Grossmont was caught on video. Activists said it showed LMPD officer Matt Dages approaching the Black 23-year-old without probable cause and then arresting him on charges of resisting arrest and assaulting an officer -- all of which were later dropped.
The incident, along with the fuel from Floyd's death, led to a large protest in the streets of La Mesa on May 30 to call attention to racial inequality and demand justice for both men.
The protest, which was rowdy but peaceful throughout the day, led to even more controversy for the city of La Mesa when a grandmother, Leslie Furcron, was struck in the face by a projectile fired by police.
Furcron was in the ICU for several weeks as a result and was left with "multiple facial fractures" and "will face a lifetime of recovery from the injuries." according to her attorney.
LMPD said they began firing after some from the crowd started throwing rocks and bottles at officers. The officer who fired believed Furcron may have been one of the perpetrators.
The incident upset the crowd, which became even more unruly, leading LMPD to declare an unlawful assembly. That's when some aggressors turned to looting and setting fire to businesses and city buildings.
Following the incidents, the city of La Mesa hired a firm to look into their police department's practices and recommend methods that can strengthen relations between the community and its officers. The firm's after-action report is still likely several months from being completed.