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Attorneys argue case over ex-La Mesa police officer's firing

A still from a video of Amaurie Johnson being detained by former La Mesa police Officer Matthew Dages on May 27, 2020.
Courtesy of Amaurie Johnson
A still from a video of Amaurie Johnson being detained by former La Mesa police Officer Matthew Dages on May 27, 2020.

An attorney for an ex-La Mesa police officer fired for allegedly lying on a police report argued in court today that there was no proof his client made intentionally false statements, while an attorney for the city said La Mesa's Personnel Appeals Board properly upheld the ex-lawman's firing for numerous on-the-job violations.

Arguments were made Friday afternoon regarding former La Mesa police officer Matthew Dages' petition challenging the appeals board's decision to uphold his firing in connection with his high-profile 2020 arrest of a young Black man near the Grossmont Transit Center.

Dages' arrest of 23-year-old Amaurie Johnson sparked protests in the East County city when a video of the arrest went viral. The former officer was fired by the department and later charged with a felony count of filing a false police report, though an El Cajon jury acquitted him last year.

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Dages has since sued to reclaim his job, though on Thursday, San Diego Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal tentatively ruled that Dages made false and misleading statements in his report stemming from Johnson's arrest. The judge ruled that as a result, the appeals board's decision "was supported by the weight of the evidence."

Following arguments heard in court Friday afternoon, Bacal indicated she will issue a final ruling in the near future.

Dages was accused of lying in his report when he wrote that he saw Johnson smoking, lacking a trolley fare while being in a "fare-paid zone," and then becoming combative once their encounter escalated into an argument on May 27, 2020.

Dages' attorney, Michael Morguess, argued his client did not make any intentional fabrications in his report. Morguess said Dages only made minor clarifications later on, but remained consistent regarding the central facts, including that from his perspective at the time, Johnson was smoking and took a "bladed stance" toward him.

Scott Tiedemann, representing the city, said Dages' firing was upheld via a unanimous vote by the appeals board, which concluded Dages not only lied in his report, but also committed other violations that would support his firing, such as improperly detaining Johnson and being "rude and discourteous" to Johnson following the arrest.

Johnson was ultimately arrested on suspicion of assault on an officer, and resisting, delaying and obstructing an officer and was released on a misdemeanor citation. Criminal charges were not filed against him and Johnson later filed a federal lawsuit against Dages and the city of La Mesa, which remains pending.