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Firing of La Mesa officer accused of excessive force upheld

The municipal personnel appeals board on Wednesday affirmed the termination of former Officer Matthew Dages, City Manager Greg Humora announced.

LA MESA, Calif. — A city review panel has upheld the termination of a La Mesa police officer fired last summer for his actions during the videotaped and widely protested arrest of a young Black man at Grossmont Transit Center.

The municipal personnel appeals board on Wednesday affirmed the termination of former Officer Matthew Dages, City Manager Greg Humora announced.

On Aug. 7, then-La Mesa Police Chief Walt Vasquez fired Dages "after several months of complying with necessary legal protocols and procedures, including an external investigation by independent investigators," according to a city statement. Dages appealed the decision a week later.

Dages lost his policing job over his allegedly racially motivated and excessively forceful arrest of 23-year-old Amaurie Johnson of San Diego on May 27.

According to police, Dages, who is white, contacted Johnson for allegedly smoking in public, which is prohibited in the area, then arrested him for purported assault on a peace officer and resisting arrest.

Johnson, who has filed a lawsuit against the city over the encounter, denied that he had been smoking and insisted that was just waiting to meet some people when Dages approached.

After his friends arrived, Johnson tried to walk away, at which point he was "violently grabbed," "forcefully jerked" and "aggressively pushed" into a seated position by the officer, according to his court papers.

Johnson also denied slapping Dages' hand, as alleged by the officer.

Cellphone video shot by a witness captured images of a part of the scuffle and soon went viral on social media.

After being detained and handcuffed, Johnson eventually was released on a misdemeanor citation. The La Mesa Police Department announced just over a week later that it would not be pursuing prosecution against him.

The arrest, coupled with the Memorial Day in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, prompted a large and raucous downtown La Mesa protest that devolved into violence, arson and looting on May 30.