Judge tentatively rules against ex-La Mesa officer challenging his firing
A judge tentatively ruled Thursday that the city of La Mesa's decision to uphold ex-officer Matthew Dages' firing amid questions regarding one of his police reports "was supported by the weight of the evidence."
The tentative ruling by San Diego Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal was issued in response to Dages' petition challenging the city's Personnel Appeals Board decision related to his firing in the wake of his high-profile 2020 arrest of a young Black man near the Grossmont Transit Center.
Dages' arrest of Amaurie Johnson sparked protests in the East County city when a video of the arrest went viral.
The former officer was later charged with a felony count of filing a false police report, though an El Cajon jury acquitted him last year. He faced three years in prison had he been convicted.
In Bacal's written ruling issued Thursday, the judge wrote that "the evidence shows what petitioner stated in his report was false and misleading."
Bacal wrote that the Personnel Appeals Board made 10 findings in its decision upholding Dages' firing, and that if any of those findings supported the penalty imposed, she "would be required to conclude there was no abuse of discretion in imposing that penalty."
To that end, the judge ruled that the evidence showed Dages falsely stated in his report that he saw Johnson smoking and that Johnson took a "bladed stance" toward him.
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 said he told Johnson he wasn't allowed to smoke in the area, then asked if Johnson lived at the apartment complex nearby. Though Johnson initially said he did live there, he later admitted he was waiting for friends to pick him up.
When Johnson's friends arrived, the interaction escalated into an argument.
Videos of the incident show Dages pushing Johnson into a seated position and pushing him down again after Johnson stood up. Dages alleged in his report that Johnson balled his fists and took a bladed stance toward him, which prosecutors and Johnson disputed.
The former officer testified that, from his perspective, it appeared that Johnson was putting a smoking device to his mouth. No lighter, cigarettes or other smoking implements were ever found on his person.
Johnson was ultimately arrested on suspicion of assault on an officer, and resisting, delaying and obstructing an officer. He was released on a misdemeanor citation and criminal charges were not filed against him.
Bacal's tentative ruling comes ahead of a Friday afternoon court hearing, during which attorneys are expected to present oral arguments prior to the judge's final ruling.