By Ken Stone
La Mesa police said Friday that they won’t seek charges against the young man whose confrontation with an officer led to a viral video that made the city “Ground Zero” for San Diego County protests beginning last weekend.
“After a full review of all of the evidence in the criminal investigation against Amaurie Johnson, 23, the La Mesa Police Department has decided it will not be seeking prosecution of Mr. Johnson on any of the alleged misdemeanor charges,” said a police statement.
The decision came two days after La Mesa released body camera footage of Johnson’s arrest May 27 near the Grossmont Trolley Center.
La Mesa Police Chief Walt Vasquez said Johnson was initially contacted for smoking in public, then later arrested on suspicion of assault on an officer, and resisting, delaying and obstructing an officer.
But the footage didn’t show an assault or resisting arrest, although Johnson was talkative. Johnson was released on a misdemeanor citation, Vasquez said.
“Dropping the charges against Amaurie Johnson is not enough,” Geneviéve Jones-Wright told Times of San Diego via email. “There needs to be an acknowledgement of the violation of his human and constitutional rights and a commitment that such a violation will never happen again.”
In both the body camera footage and a video on social media, the officer can be seen pushing Johnson into a seated position, with both men arguing.
Johnson was asked at the press conference why he kept popping up from his seated position. He said he was told he wasn’t under arrest.
Was his behavior in a sense provocative of the officer?
Jones-Wright, the former candidate for county district attorney, stepped in to answer the question.
She said that the first thing she said to Johnson after the incident was that she was proud he asserted his rights.
“He had every right under the Constitution and his God-given rights as a human being to walk away from that officer, where there was no probable cause underpinning that interaction,” she said. “What we see here … is the epitome and picture of why it is so hard to be black in America. Why we cannot sit, we cannot stand. … without our lives taken or shaken up.”
Many have decried the incident as an example of racial profiling, which led police protests already planned following George Floyd’s in-custody Memorial Day death in Minneapolis to take place in the East County city last weekend.
The officer involved in Johnson’s arrest has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
After city officials abruptly left the lectern, Johnson and others held their own impromptu news conference, in which they challenged what they called a “sham press conference” organized by city officials.
“There was no accountability taken today amongst the police officers that were here, the police chief,” Johnson said.
“I also didn’t hear any apologies in regards to what happened to Leslie Furcron, no apologies in regards to what might have happened to anyone else that was hurt or harmed during this time.”
Johnson on Wednesday said there was no smoking paraphernalia found on him, despite that being the alleged impetus for his arrest. He said he was only waiting in the area for a friend to come pick him up.
Updated at 5:54 p.m. June 5, 2020
— City News Service contributed to this report.
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