Acquitted Cop Charged in Wake of 2020 Protests Fights to Get Job Back

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A San Diego-area police officer acquitted on charges of falsifying a police report in La Mesa, Calif., in May of 2020 is now fighting to get his job back. The case is expected to go before a California Superior Court judge on April 1.

Matthew Dages, 31, was fired from the La Mesa Police Department after confronting 23-year-old Amaurie Johnson at the Metropolitan Transit System trolley station on May 27, 2020 in La Mesa, Calif., in the wake of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests.

That day, police were patrolling the area and checking for trolley passes, and Johnson was reportedly detained for not having a transit pass. Johnson then allegedly became combative and pushed Dages, who arrested him and charged him with assaulting a police officer. The charges against Johnson were later dropped.

video of the incident went viral, with local activists focused on the fact that Johnson was black and Dages was white.

Epoch Times Photo
(Screenshot via Instagram/daygotv)

The clip shows Dages pushing Johnson onto a bench. Johnson then stands up again, and Dages shoves him back down and cuffs him. Two other police officers help with the arrest.

In the days that followed, protesters shut down Interstate 8, rioters burned down two banks, and looters robbed a grocery store in La Mesa. When the police were called to the scene, they used tear gas and fired bean bag rounds to disperse the mob, injuring some in the crowd.

The city council later called an emergency meeting and ordered a citywide curfew. Tensions remained high at a press conference a week later, as local officials announced the body cam footage was being released.

“La Mesa became ground zero for the region’s outpouring of anger and demands for change in law enforcement practices,” said Mayor Mark Arapostathis at the press conference.

The body cam footage begins before the viral video and appears to possibly show Johnson swatting Dages’ hand away to the left of the camera frame before Dages shoves him. Johnson later states on camera that he pushed Dages’ hand away because the officer grabbed him.

Meanwhile, Dages was accused of falsifying his police report and faced up to three years in prison. He was officially terminated from his job on Dec. 9, 2020.

One year later, after a two-week trial, Dages was acquitted on Dec. 10, 2021.

“The experience has been both terrifying and exhausting,” Dages said. “We had protesters at our doorstep and [harassing us] on our phones that evening.”

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Christina Dages)

Fortunately, Dages had been forewarned that a mob of protesters was headed to his home, so he and his wife Christina didn’t stay there that night.

The protesters stayed outside his home for the next few days and at one point there were several hundred of them, he said.

“It was definitely one of the most terrifying times of our lives—just to know that our privacy, our family safety had been compromised at our house,” he said.

Dages said he and some of his family members were doxxed and received death threats online and over the phone.

Christina Dages told the Epoch Times that local media coverage of her husband’s case has been biased.

“The court of public opinion is in session against cops,” she said. “It’s been horrific. We’re a good, hardworking family with law enforcement and military in our lineage. We’re all about serving the community and serving our country. It’s been heartbreaking. They’re trying to drag my husband’s name through the mud for just doing his job.”

Before the protests, La Mesa police had routinely patrolled the trolley station—a known hangout for organized shoplifters and drug addicts—to detain people who don’t have transit fares. But just two days after George Floyd’s untimely and controversial death, emotions were running high in the community, and activists blamed “systemic racism” and “white supremacy” for the incident.

Epoch Times Photo
Black Lives Matter demonstrators gather to protest in La Mesa, Calif., on Aug. 1, 2020. (Bing Guan/AFP via Getty Images)

Though Dages had been cleared on his use of force in Johnson’s arrest, protesters still called him racist, demanding he be fired and criminally prosecuted. Instead of standing behind him, city leaders “bowed down” to the mob, Christina said.

“The public outcry of the social justice activist groups was so loud—and the city was so scared after their buildings were burned down and their city was destroyed … that city leaders made the cowardly move to make Matthew their sacrificial lamb, if you will, to try and please the mob and prevent more destruction,” she said.

California Assemblywoman Akilah Weber (D-San Diego), who was a La Mesa city councilwoman at the time of the incident, called for bias training and more diversity on the police force at a press conference on June 3 and posted on social media about the case.

Weber wrote on Twitter on Jan. 24, 2021: “As in any Industry, it is important to hold those who do wrong accountable. Matter [Matthew] Dages broke the trust that we, the residents of La Mesa, gave him in his role as a police officer. The La Mesa residents have been asking for transparency and accountability in this situation.”

Weber was elected to the state Assembly in April 2021. She won the 79th District seat, previously held for a decade by her mother, Shirley Weber, who was appointed California Secretary of State in January 2021.

Before leaving La Mesa Council, Akilah Weber said her “most important vote” was when the City Council approved a police oversight board in 2020.

Epoch Times Photo
Police officers and unidentified observers watch a Black Lives Matter protest in La Mesa, Calif., on Aug. 1, 2020. (Bing Guan/AFP via Getty Images)

Dages has not received an apology from Weber nor any members of the City Council since his acquittal, he said. The Dageses also accused other local officials of taking advantage of the situation for political gain.

“It’s obviously a very political case. It was very politically driven,” Matthew said. “We’ve been kind of fighting for our lives, and my wife has been walking through fire for the last year and a half.”

Dages is now hoping to be reinstated to his former position on the La Mesa police force. The ordeal has been a hefty financial burden with his out-of-pocket legal bills exceeding $100,000 so far, he said.

Dages thanked supporters of the Pipe Hitter Foundation, which has helped raise funds to cover legal expenses.

“It’s been tremendously difficult on my family financially. I was obviously forced to sell my house due to the fact it was no longer safe after we had so many protesters there. It was no longer a safe place for my family to live,” he said.

Brad Jones

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Brad Jones is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California.





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