Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to say a former La Mesa police officer was charged.
LA MESA, Calif. — A former La Mesa police officer has been charged with filing a false report in connection with his arrest of a young Black man at a trolley station last spring, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced Monday.
The criminal charge come five months after Officer Matthew Dages lost his policing job over his allegedly racially motivated and excessively forceful arrest of 23-year-old Amaurie Johnson of San Diego on May 27. Last month, a city review panel upheld the termination.
Dages is accused of falsifying the reason for Johnson’s detention and his actions.
Former La Mesa Police Chief Walt Vasquez fired Dages on Aug. 7 “after several months of complying with necessary legal protocols and procedures, including an external investigation by independent investigators.” According to police, Dages, who is white, contacted Johnson for allegedly smoking in public, which is prohibited in the area, then arrested him for purported assault on a peace officer and resisting arrest.
Johnson, who has filed a lawsuit against the city over the encounter, denied that he had been smoking and insisted that he was just waiting to meet some people when Dages approached.
“The La Mesa Police Department is aware of the announcement made by the District Attorney’s Office this morning regarding the issuing of charges against former La Mesa Police Officer Matthew Dages,” Acting Chief of Police Ray Sweeney said in a statement. “We have worked closely with the San Diego District Attorney’s Office over the past several months on this matter.
“The La Mesa Police Department holds each and every member of the Department to the highest standards of integrity in order to protect and serve our community and keep its trust.”
After his friends arrived, Johnson tried to walk away, at which point he was “violently grabbed,” “forcefully jerked” and “aggressively pushed” into a seated position by the officer, according to his court papers.
Johnson also denied slapping Dages’ hand, as alleged by the lawman.
Cellphone video shot by a witness captured images of part of the scuffle and soon went viral on social media.
After being detained and handcuffed, Johnson eventually was released on a misdemeanor citation. The La Mesa Police Department announced just over a week later that it would not be pursuing prosecution against him.
“These are criminals, these are not officers and they should be held accountable each and every one of them,” political leader and civil right activist Tasha Williamson said, adding that she’s “optimistic” that the police will be held accountable.
“We all know that this has been going on for generations and there has been a lack of accountability and that is why we are here today at this time where there are so many protests across the nation,” Williamson said.
The arrest, coupled with the Memorial Day in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, prompted a large and raucous downtown La Mesa protest that devolved into violence, arson and looting on May 30.
“When someone in a position of trust such as a police officer commits a crime, it causes tremendous harm and shakes the community’s confidence in those who are sworn to protect them,” Stephan said in a statement. “Everyone is accountable under the law and as we’ve done previously, we will file criminal charges when they are supported by facts and evidence. My office’s Special Operations division of specialized prosecutors and investigators is dedicated to the principles of conducting fair, thorough and independent reviews of public corruption and police misconduct cases with the goal of enhancing public trust and pursuing justice.”
Dages is slated to be arraigned March 9. If convicted, he faces up to three years in prison.