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Protesters Demand More Transparency During Demonstration at La Mesa PD

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A mostly peaceful crowd descended on the parking lot of the La Mesa Police Department Tuesday evening to voice calls for increased transparency and officer accountability.

The protest was organized in response to an announcement the department made last week stating that Matt Dages -- the officer at the center of a controversial arrest of a black man outside an apartment building in late May -- was no longer with the force.

Organizers say Dages' departure is a step in the right direction, but feel the department needs to be more forthcoming about whether the former officer quit or was fired.

They demanded more transparency at a daytime press conference the preceded the protest.

"We come in peace. We just want equality and not to be racially profiled against -- prejudiced. We don't want to have prejudice pushed against us. When we come to these protests, we don't feel protected. A lot of people have been attacked," said Amaurie Johnson, the black man on the other end of the controversial arrest incident.

A tweet sent just before 7 p.m. by LMPD said about 80 peaceful protesters were demonstrating outside of department headquarters. Minutes later, one person was seen being taken into custody for allegedly confronting officers with pepper spray.

The department's next tweet about an hour later said the protest appeared to be over.

Officer Dages was with the department for about three years before his departure, according to LMPD.

NBC 7 reached out to LMPD for more information regarding Dages but a spokesperson said that because the controversial arrest is the subject of a lawsuit, the department could not comment.

The arrest in question occurred May 27 outside of an apartment complex near the Grossmont Trolley Station. Tensions rose almost immediately when Dages first contacted Johnson, 23, who Dages suspected was smoking marijuana in public.

In both the social media video and body camera video released by LMPD, Dages and Johnson can be seen and heard arguing. Johnson tells Dages he was waiting for friends to return to from the store. Dages can be seen pushing Johnson onto a bench several times after Johnson ignored commands to sit down.

Johnson was taken into custody on charges of assault on an officer and resisting, delaying or obstructing an officer. More than a week later, LMPD dropped the charges. No evidence of drug paraphernalia was found when officers first searched him, according to Johnson.

Dages was placed on administrative leave following community outcry in response to the footage that went viral on social media. The arrest came just two days after the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, and both events fueled large protests against police brutality and in support of racial justice in downtown La Mesa the following weekend.

The night of protests on May 30 gave way to violent rioting, arson and looting at the police department and several businesses near by.

Johnson filed a lawsuit against Dages, the LMPD, and other entities involved claiming his arrest, and alleged excessive use of force by Dages, was racially driven.

Although La Mesa officials released body camera video from the controversial arrest of Amaurie Johnson, activists told NBC 7's Priya Sridhar that it's not enough.
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