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La Mesa organizations hold day of remembrance on anniversary of riot

Protests in La Mesa in late May 2020 started out peaceful before devolving into looting and rioting after dark.

LA MESA, Calif. — The nonprofit La Mesa Conversations and the community group Envision La Mesa held the La Mesa Day of Remembrance on Sunday, commemorating the first anniversary of a contentious protest at La Mesa police headquarters sparked by the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the controversial local arrest of Amaurie Johnson.

Secretary of State Shirley Weber and Assemblywoman Akilah Weber, D-San Diego, were among the speakers.

Protests in La Mesa in late May 2020 started out peaceful before devolving into looting and rioting after dark.

Ricky Bernard Cooper, 33, and 19-year-old Alexander Jacob King were arrested for their alleged roles in the destructive demonstration in the East County San Diego city, according to the FBI.

Cooper and King allegedly committed the crimes during a May 30 protest prompted by violent police encounters with Black men -- the Memorial Day murder of Floyd and the arrest two days later of the 23-year-old Johnson of San Diego at Grossmont Transit Center in La Mesa.

As the initially peaceful afternoon demonstration erupted into chaotic unrest, a crowd estimated to number as high as 1,000 blocked nearby Interstate 8 in both directions for a time.

Footage from the scene showed at least two vehicles ablaze near La Mesa City Hall and vandals smashing storefront windows at a nearby shopping center.

Credit: KFMB

After nightfall, looters and arsonists burglarized a closed Vons supermarket, a Sprouts store and a Goodwill retail outlet; smashed windows at other businesses; and set two banks ablaze.

The arrests of Cooper and King stemmed from a joint investigation by La Mesa and San Diego police and the FBI, according to the federal agency, which did not disclose what led authorities to identify the two men as suspects in the case.

Matthew Dages, a former La Mesa police officer, was fired last summer in connection with the May 27 arrest of Johnson, which was captured on video and circulated over social media.

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.

One year ago Sunday, La Mesa businesses were looted and vandalized and two area banks were burnt to the ground after a...

Posted by CBS 8 - San Diego News on Sunday, May 30, 2021

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.

Dages' firing was upheld in December by the city of La Mesa's personnel appeals board.

In a writ of administrative mandate filed in San Diego Superior Court in March, Dages 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."

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.

The La Mesa Police Department released uniform-worn camera footage last year showing an officer firing a crowd-control projectile at a woman, seriously injuring her, during a violent police brutality protest.

The department later publicly identified the La Mesa police officer who fired the round at 59-year-old Leslie Furcron outside LMPD headquarters during the May 30 demonstration.

Detective Eric Knudson, a 12-year member of the department, was placed on paid leave during investigations into the matter but was later reinstated. 

WATCH: La Mesa peaceful protests turn to looting, destruction, and burning of businesses and vehicles - May 31, 2020

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