Preliminary hearing begins for fired La Mesa cop accused of falsifying report

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SAN DIEGO — A former La Mesa police officer, who is accused of lying about a controversial arrest that made national headlines and set off days of angry protests, was in court Tuesday for a preliminary hearing.

Matthew Dages is charged in connection with the May 27, 2020 arrest of 23-year-old Amaurie Johnson, which was captured on video near the Grossmont Trolley Station and circulated over social media, sparking particular condemnation in the wake of the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Dages is accused of “falsifying the reason for Johnson’s detention as well as his actions” and faces up to three years in state prison if convicted, according to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office. Dages will learn if there’s enough evidence against him to be held over for trial.

According to the complaint, Dages lied about what happened, writing that Johnson violated a no smoking ordinance and did not pay for a trolley ticket. The video shows an escalating exchange and ends with Johnson’s arrest. 

“I think she’s trying to appease the mob rule,” said a former LAPD detective who now hosts a radio show dedicated to supporting the police.

He believes the case will be thrown out. 

“Obviously two days after this the George Floyd incident, it’s very volatile,” the detective said. “Our society, they want to demonize police officers, it’s time that we stand up and support our police officers.” 

However, supporters of Johnson don’t think the charges go far enough. 

“The aggression that we see in the video, it tries to antagonize a response from Amaurie Johnson,” said Yusef Miller, a racial equality advocate. “I see in the video, we all see in the video, where he is holding Amaurie Johnson, pulling him by the t-shirt and pushing him away. This is antagonizing. This is kind of like baiting the person into an altercation.” 

Johnson, who was taken into custody but never charged during the incident, is suing La Mesa. Dages is suing as well, in order to get his job back and for lost pay.

Court is set to resume Wednesday.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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