LA MESA, Calif. – Neighbors Tuesday aired out frustrations with the La Mesa Police Department over the way officers handled a May protest of police violence against Black Americans that spiraled into a riot.
They gathered in a video session for an after-action review of the department’s actions during the May 30 protest, which was held in the wake of the Memorial Day police killing of George Floyd. In the fallout of the protest, the city hired an independent consulting firm to gather feedback and determine how local police can improve relationships with the community.
Some residents said they’re disappointed in the way La Mesa officers responded that night.
“My impression of the police department is that they are a small city department that faced a big city problem they weren’t prepared for,” resident David Harris said. “The way it was handled — I think everybody agrees — it wasn’t handled well, and resulted in a lot of unnecessary damage to both the spirit and the streets of La Mesa.”
Neither city officials nor police officers were involved in Tuesday’s session. The consultant, Hillard Heintze, plans to use feedback to draft recommendations for city leaders to consider in a future meeting.
Among the topics discussed in groups were about how residents viewed protests, riots and the response of police.
Resident Sasha Jonestein, who was at the protest, said several of her friends were “tear gassed” after she left the demonstration.
“One was a couple who was there with their children, 11 and 13, and they got tear gassed and everyone I know who was there says there says there was no announcement,” Jonestein said. “There was no alert that was going to happen. I understand the graffiti and vandalism did initiate with that but it didn’t need to escalate.”
She added, “I absolutely believe LMPD escalated the situation and … lost so much trust in their lack of transparency following that.”
Kim Elliot, another local resident, said she “held the police department in high esteem.” She lauded the department for ending its relationship with officer Matt Dages, who was involved in a controversial May arrest of 23-year-old La Mesa man Amaurie Johnson as he stood waiting for friends near the Grossmont Trolley Station.
But Elliot wondered: “How long is that kind of bias tolerated?”
“I don’t feel that they were open with really what happened,” she said.