Former La Mesa officer charged with filing false police report in arrest of Black man
A former La Mesa police officer was charged Monday with lying on a police report about an arrest of a Black man in late May that sparked outrage.
San Diego County Dist. Atty. Summer Stephan said former Officer Matthew Dages, 30, provided false information in a May 28 police report about why he detained Amaurie Johnson a day earlier. He was charged with a felony count of filing a false police report.
Dages repeatedly claimed during the encounter that Johnson smacked his arm and cited him for assaulting an officer, but video of the encounter doesn’t show Johnson struck Dages.
“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.”
Dages’ attorney, Kasey Castillo, issued a statement Monday saying the former officer denies the criminal allegations and “looks forward to clearing his name.”
Dages was fired a bit more than two months after the incident.
Castillo’s statement said Dages had no prior history of discipline and accumulated several performance-based commendations during his nearly three years with the La Mesa Police Department. Last January, then-Police Chief Walt Vasquez deemed him a “role model” officer, Castillo said.
The release comes after a six-minute bystander video of the encounter between a black man and a white police officer spread on social media.
In the aftermath of Johnson’s arrest, he and others called for criminal charges to be filed against Dages. He also sued the city, alleging Dages discriminated against him based on race, used excessive force and wrongly arrested him.
“Thank you to everyone for the support. I’m thankful for the DA’s decision to pursue charges against former Officer Dages,” Johnson said Monday in a statement on social media. “Now it’s time for this drawn out legal process. I’ll do my part to make sure there is justice. Tough times don’t last but tough people do.”
His arrest, which was captured in a video that circulated online, fueled anger and frustration about racial injustice and police brutality in the days after the Memorial Day death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd died after a police officer held a knee on his neck, prompting widespread protests across the country. In La Mesa, a protest turned riotous on May 30 and lasted into the early hours of the next day as stores were robbed and two banks and other buildings were burned.
Johnson has said Dages walked up to him while he was waiting for friends outside an apartment complex near the Grossmont Trolley Center. Johnson said Dages accused him of smoking marijuana — which Johnson denied. When his friends drove up, Johnson tried to walk away.
That’s when the situation escalated. Dages grabbed Johnson by his jersey and pushed him down onto a concrete bench, according to video of the encounter and Johnson’s lawsuit.
The video — a clip recorded by Johnson’s friends and footage from Dages’ body-worn camera — shows Johnson stand up and tell Dages he’s being “goofy as hell” and making a “big ass deal out of nothing.” Dages then shoves him onto the bench a second time.
“You’re the one that just smacked my hand. Sit down,” Dages says.
Johnson stands up again and tells Dages there’s no reason for him to be detained. Dages pushes him down again. Within seconds, other officers arrive and help handcuff Johnson, who was arrested on suspicion of assaulting an officer.
“I already know what it is,” he says as he sits in handcuffs. “I’m black as [expletive] out here. That’s what the issue is.”
As Dages walks Johnson to a police vehicle, Johnson tells Dages, “Assault on a police officer? You know it’s on film, right? How far do you think this is going to go?”
Johnson was cited, then released. A little more than a week after the arrest, police decided not to seek charges against him.
Dages is scheduled to be arraigned in March. If convicted, he could face up to three years in prison.
The San Diego County district attorney’s office has charged an officer with filing a false police report four other times since 2009, according to spokeswoman Tanya Sierra.
Hernandez writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.
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