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La Mesa Organizations Hope To Heal On Anniversary Of Destructive Protests

A vehicle engulfed in flames in front of La Mesa City Hall on May 30, 2020, a...

Photo by Matthew Bowler

Above: A vehicle engulfed in flames in front of La Mesa City Hall on May 30, 2020, as the protest over police brutality escalated to chaos and vandalism.

The nonprofit La Mesa Conversations and the community group Envision La Mesa will hold the La Mesa Day of Remembrance 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, are among the scheduled speakers.

Listen to this story by Alexandra Rangel.

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

Reported by Alexandra Rangel

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 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 one vehicle ablaze near La Mesa City Hall and vandals smashing storefront windows at a nearby shopping center.

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.

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.

Also on Wednesday afternoon, the department publicly identified the La Mesa police officer who fired the round at 59-year-old Leslie Furcron during rioting that erupted outside LMPD headquarters during the May 30 demonstration.

Detective Eric Knudson, a 12-year member of the department, has been placed on paid leave pending completion of investigations into the matter, Vasquez said.

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