December 8, 2021

Re: Observing the Matt Dages Trial

On December 2nd, in my capacity as the President of the NAACP San Diego Branch, I was asked by the mother of Mr Amaurie Johnson to attend part of the trial of Matt Dages.  

As many know, Matt Dages is accused of falsifying the arrest report of Mr Johnson.  Mr Johnson was arrested while waiting at a transit stop.  Video of the arrest showed then La Mesa Police Department Officer Matt Dages using escalating force against an unresisting Mr Johnson.  Dages wrote the reverse in his report; he wrote that he was assaulted by Mr Johnson.

Protesters of the death of Mr George Floyd chose La Mesa as a protest site due to this seemingly unjust arrest.  The community needs to see justice done in this case if it is to regain trust in the La Mesa Police Department, and policing in general.

Several things struck me about my day at the trial.  The first thing was the utter lack of diversity in the jury.  In March, we heard from a Judge, a DA and a Public Defender about how important diversity is in juries. In a case with such heavy racial overtones, a diverse jury is even more essential, and this jury is not.

Another thing that struck me was that some members of this non-diverse jury seemed uninterested in justice.  I overheard three of them discussing falling asleep during the testimony!

Then there were the people that showed up to support Matt Dages; dozens of people, all White, who broke into cheers when he arrived at the courtroom.  Clearly, some San Diego residents will side with a White man with a badge, no matter how poorly he treats a Black man, and no matter what he says about it afterward.

Lastly, there was testimony that Dages was taking part in a “sting” operation at the transit stop.  It was notable to hear that not all of the officers had a clear understanding of where riders are and are not permitted to wait.  Given how important transit is to the future of our region and our planet, it behooves the MTS and our local law enforcement agencies to clarify the rules for waiting for transit.  Transit stations and rules also need to be designed to be welcoming to riders and waiters alike.

This trial is only one result of Dages’ arrest of Mr Johnson.  In March, we wrote about La Mesa establishing a Community Police Oversight Board (CPOB) in response to the arrest and its aftermath.  We thought that was a promising step.  That Board is closer to establishment today, but La Mesa residents have brought concerns about it to the NAACP San Diego Branch.

While we appreciate the good-faith efforts of the La Mesa Mayor and Council, and all the work that has gone into the design of the CPOB, we are concerned that theBoard as currently envisioned does not represent a true effort to bring community accountability to the La Mesa Police Department

The CPOB is solely an advisory board, without investigative power or ability to affect the outcome of investigations or to give meaningful input into disciplinary action.  While there are positives about the current proposal, including the existence of an independent auditor, mediation of complaints, and more,True oversight requires the ability of the community to hold Officers accountable for their behavior, and that seems entirely missing from the La Mesa CPOB.

This iteration of the CPOB is only a first step, and much more work is required to restore community trust in policing. The NAACP San Diego branch will be meeting with the La Mesa Police Chief in the coming year.  We look forward to hearing what has been changed since the firing of the man who is now on trial, as well as making sure the CPOB performs a true oversight function.

Francine Maxwell, President
NAACP San Diego Branch

 

If you need more information about the NAACP San Diego Branch, please visit sandiegonaacp.org/presskit

PO Box 152086
San Diego CA 92195

(619) 431-1633 Phone/Text
info@sandiegonaacp.org
www.sandiegonaacp.org

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