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A San Diego Superior Court judge has issued a tentative ruling in which she denies a former La Mesa police officer’s request to get his job back, saying his firing was “supported by the weight of the evidence.”

Matthew Dages, 31, was fired in the summer of 2020 based on findings of an administrative investigation into the arrest of Amaurie Johnson, an encounter that was caught on video, exploded on social media and preceded a protest that turned riotous days later.

Dages was found to have lied in his police report about the encounter and was fired. A city appeals board upheld the firing. Dages sued, challenging the board’s findings.

Lawyers for the former officer have said his account in the report was honest based on his perspective at the time.

In a tentative decision issued Thursday, San Diego Superior Court Judge Kathleen Bacal wrote that the findings and decision to terminate Dages’ employment “was supported by the weight of the evidence,” and that evidence showed what Dages’ had written in his report “was false and misleading.”


The ruling is not final. Both sides are scheduled to appear before Bacal on Friday to make arguments before she issues a final decision.

Aside from being fired, Dages was charged in criminal court with lying in the report. In December, an El Cajon Superior Court jury acquitted him.

The May 27, 2020 arrest drew immediate scrutiny after bystander video posted to social media showed Dages, who is White, grabbing and pushing Johnson, who is Black, onto a concrete bench.

That incident, and the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis on Memorial Day that year, led to a protest a few days later in La Mesa. What started as a tense but mostly peaceful gathering outside police headquarters in the afternoon, took a turn as night fell when some people in the crowd set fire to buildings in the downtown area and several businesses were looted.

The incident between Dages and Johnson occurred outside an apartment complex near the Grossmont Transit Center, where Dages and other officers were carrying out a trolley fare enforcement operation.

Dages told administrative investigators, and jurors, he noticed Johnson from a distance and that it appeared he was smoking, which isn’t allowed near the trolley station, so he walked up to Johnson.

Johnson, 23 at the time of the incident, has said he was waiting for friends who lived at the apartment complex where he was standing. According to the administrative investigation, Johnson was not smoking.

Dages then asked Johnson if he had paid a trolley fare, which Dages has said he believed was required in the area where Johnson was standing. During the former officer’s trial, the prosecution and the defense disagreed over whether that was accurate.

When Johnson’s friends arrived, he tried to walk away from the officer. That’s when Dages grabbed Johnson and told him he was not free to leave. Dages has said he detained Johnson for not paying a fare.

Dages claimed Johnson smacked his arm. Johnson said he swiped Dages’ hand. Video of the incident does not clearly capture the moment.

Also in question is whether Johnson balled his fists and took a fighting stance, with one foot in front of the other, as Dages wrote in the police report. During Dages’ trial, the prosecution and defense disagreed over what the video shows.

Dages ended up arresting Johnson on suspicion of assaulting a police officer and resisting, delaying or obstructing a police officer, but the Police Department days later decided not to pursue criminal charges against Johnson.

Dages was fired Aug. 7, 2020 after an administrative investigation found he had overstepped his police powers by detaining Johnson without probable cause, among other violations of department policies.

Dages appealed the termination, but the city’s personnel appeals board upheld the decision on Dec. 9, 2020.

Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com

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