LA MESA, Calif. — Nearly a year ago, Amaurie Johnson was sitting at a La Mesa trolley station when he was approached by then-Officer Matthew Dages. Dages claimed Johnson had been smoking in public, which was not allowed in that area, before arresting him on suspicion of assaulting an officer and resisting arrest. Johnson was later cleared of all charges after video of the arrest sparked protest and condemnation. Dages was later arrested and charged with falsifying a police report. Johnson expects to testify for the prosecution if the case goes to trial. Dages has pleaded not guilty and denied the allegations against him.
News 8 spoke with Johnson to reflect back on the past year.
How has this past year changed you?
"This past year was a very trying time. I haven’t really had the chance to reflect because the situation is still ongoing."
Did it occur to you at the time how prevalent this would be a year later?
"I didn’t know how the public would see my instance or my situation, or how they would take it, but I did know that it was an issue that needs to be dealt with or addressed. Whether or not it invoked passionate people or whether or not to touched people, I knew in my soul and heart it’s something that affected me and something that people shouldn’t have to deal with. And I felt as though other people with my skin color, your skin color, minorities, in general, did feel some of the ways I felt in that moment so I just want to be vocal in how I felt and let people see that."
Why do you think what happened to you resonated with people?
"I think it resonated with people just because a lot of people go through similar things and they just go do that in silence. They don’t necessarily have a camera in front of them or the ability to live to tell the tale in some instances, which is very unfortunate. So that’s why I think it invoked passion in people and people felt some type of way about it because this is a situation where you can see it on camera. You can see what happened.
I think that’s why people felt so strongly about that, because it’s just not fair, it’s not OK and that’s not the way that the police should act."
What are you looking to happen now?
"Honestly, I just know that the world that we’re living in right now isn’t a place I want to raise my children. So, as far as the endpoint I don’t really know exactly verbatim what those goals are but I do know that I do want to see a change and whether that would be police reform, just [ending] racial targeting, prejudice and things of that nature, police brutality and people being held accountable, those are places that we can start at for sure."
How is it having this platform to speak out about these issues?
"I feel blessed just because I’m a Black man and I have the ability to, with my words better other people’s lives just by vocalizing at these things are happening. I've used this quote before and I'll use it again, “With great power comes great responsibility”. This was dawned on me. I didn’t choose this, but what I'm going to do with it is my choice and so I’m going to make a positive outcome after out of this definitely."
What’s your feeling towards the officer who arrested you?
"I don't really have a take on the officer other than my original outlook when he first approached me. He’s just a bad officer. He shouldn’t have been officer in the first place. I didn’t ask him to approach me. I didn’t warrant him approaching me either. I was sitting there waiting for my friends to show up. I do know what he did was not correct or right or within the law."
What do you think of the response from the La Mesa Police Department?
"Terrible. Terrible. There’s a lot of words. Lackadaisical. There's a lot of words, I can use to kind of explain my emotions towards the police department, but none of them will be good and my mother told me 'If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.'"
What’s your message for people who only remember the looting and violence that happened after the protests?
"I think that’s just a scapegoat for people to kind of look at. If you don't want to acknowledge what people are actually protesting about is easy for you, to go ahead and talk about looting and protesting or people destroying things.
For people to understand how I feel where I’m coming from -- you can't replace the people and the lives that were lost.
When you see those things going on, just understand why those people are angry and why are they protesting. They’re protesting for people who have lost have lost their lives, for people who have been taken advantage of. We can rebuild a building so we can rebuild all that stuff. That can be regained. But the people lost the people who have died and you can't get that back.
Just to be quite frank, without the protesting happening, there wouldn’t be as much of a conversation in general about what’s going on because they would just sweep it under the rug as they’ve been doing."
You mentioned you don’t know what the end goal looks like but how are you going to get there?
"I’m going to give it all I got. So that’s all I’m going to do. I don’t know how long is going to take. I don’t even know if I'll be victorious, but I know that I have the right thing in mind and I know that what I want is for the betterment of everyone - equality - and there’s nothing wrong with that."
WATCH: Interview with lawyer for Amaurie Johnson about lawsuit against City of La Mesa, police officer over - July 30, 2020