California city settles federal wrongful arrest suit for $125K; officer fired for lying on police report

The arrest of 23-year-old old Amaurie Johnson in La Mesa came two days after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The city of La Mesa, California has agreed to pay $125,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by Amaurie Johnson, who was shown on video being grabbed and pushed by a police officer in May 2020.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that two months after his arrest outside an apartment building near the Grossmont Transit Center, Johnson — a Black man who was 23 at the time — filed a federal lawsuit against La Mesa and former police officer Matthew Dages. He accused the officer of using excessive force and making a wrongful arrest.

Before the settlement and before U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Miller dismissed the case last month, it was set for a trial in mid-November.

La Mesa, California
San Diego County sheriff officers stand guard on May 31, 202 in front of a burning bank building in La Mesa, California after a protest over the death of George Floyd. Amaurie Johnson’s controversial arrest in La Mesa happened two days after Floyd’s death. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Dages, a white man, approached Johnson during a police operation involving trolley fares. According to Dages, he thought Johnson was smoking in a no-smoking area. Johnson said he informed the officer that he wasn’t.

In an incident that was captured by Dages’ bodycam and the cellphone of a witness, Johnson was attempting to leave but Dages grabbed his tank top and slammed him onto a concrete bench. 

Johnson would be arrested on suspicion of assaulting a police officer and resisting, delaying, or obstructing a police officer. The La Mesa Police Department opted not to press charges.

His arrest came two days after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis by former officer Derek Chauvin. La Mesa protesters took to the streets in response to both incidents, sparking a riot that led to the burning and looting of businesses.

Viewers online instantly condemned the interaction between Johnson and Dages as an instance of racial profiling and police violence. 

Dages, who had been a La Mesa police officer for about two years, was fired after an investigation determined that he detained Johnson without having a valid reason to suspect him of committing a crime. The investigation also found that he lied about the interaction to the police and made a false report, according to The Union-Tribune.

He was found not guilty of fabricating a police report in El Cajon Superior Court. Dages then sued the city in civil court, contesting an appeals board’s decision to uphold his firing. The judge declined, concurring that his report had been misleading.

“We’re satisfied with the outcome of the litigation in that the matter has been put to rest,” said La Mesa city attorney Glenn Sabine, according to The Union-Tribune.

Sabine said the city is responsible for paying $50,000 and the remaining sum will be covered by its insurance company.

A payment from Dages is not included in the settlement, according to his attorney Daniel Modafferi, who declined further comment.

Johnson’s attorney could not be reached for comment on the settlement.

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