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Fired La Mesa police officer at center of controversial arrest pleads not guilty

Matthew Dages faces up to three years in state prison if convicted.

LA MESA, Calif. — The former La Mesa police officer at the center of a controversial arrest that played a role in protests and riots last spring pleaded not guilty during his arraignment on Tuesday.

Video of former officer Matthew Dages wrongfully detaining Amaurie Johnson went viral and sparked outrage in the community. Dages was fired based on allegations that he violated several police department rules and regulations, including falsification of records, according to a termination letter issued last summer by then-police chief Walt Vasquez.

The now-retired chief wrote that Dages made false and misleading statements in his police report regarding alleged smoking and fare evasion violations he said Johnson committed. The letter states 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, Dages asked for his job back by petitioning the San Diego Superior Court to have the City of La Mesa and the appeals board that upheld his firing, reinstate him as an officer as well as provide him back pay 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 appeals board's decision to deny his appeal is invalid because the 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."

Following his arrest, Johnson was released on a misdemeanor citation and the police department later announced it would not be seeking charges against him. Johnson later filed a federal lawsuit against Dages and the city of La Mesa.

Dages was arraigned in El Cajon and faces up to three years in state prison if convicted.

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