A former La Mesa police officer at the center of a controversial arrest near the Grossmont trolley station last spring pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a felony charge of filing a false report.
Matthew Dages is charged in connection with the May 27 arrest of 23- year-old Amaurie Johnson, which was captured on video and circulated over social media, sparking particular condemnation in the wake of the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Dages is accused of “falsifying the reason for Johnson’s detention as well as his actions” and faces up to three years in state prison if convicted, according to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office.
He was ordered to have no contact with Johnson or any other witnesses in the case.
Dages remains out of custody on his own recognizance. His next court date is a March 23 readiness conference.
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. He was released on a misdemeanor citation, but the police department later announced it would not be seeking charges against Johnson, who has filed a federal lawsuit against Dages and the city of La Mesa.
Dages, who had been employed by the department since 2018, was fired in August, and the firing was later upheld by the city’s Personnel Appeals Board.
In a termination letter issued last summer by then-police chief Walt Vasquez, the now-retired department head listed “false and misleading statements” in Dages’ report as part of the reason for his firing. Those statements included allegedly false determinations that Johnson was smoking and committed a fare evasion violation, as well as statements that Johnson balled his fists and took a “bladed stance” towards Dages during the arrest.
The letter stated that Dages also failed to activate his body-worn camera in a timely fashion during the arrest and “directed profane, insolent language and made discourteous comments” to Johnson.
Last week, a writ of administrative mandate was filed on Dages’ behalf in San Diego Superior Court, which seeks to have the city and the appeals board “set aside their decision and the discipline, and reinstate and restore Petitioner to his position, as well as restore all back pay and benefits lost, with interest.”
Additionally, the filing states that Dages seeks “to remove from Petitioner’s personnel file or any other file used for personnel purposes, documentation relating to the discipline.”
Dages’ filing alleges the decision to deny his appeal is invalid because the appeals board “failed to proceed in the manner required by law; the decision is not supported by the findings; and the findings are not supported by the weight of the evidence.”
–City News Service