La Mesa to launch outside investigation into an incident that led to a black man being forcibly detained. The La Mesa police incident was captured on video and shared on social media
The city of La Mesa is set to launch an outside investigation into the detention of a black man at a trolley station Wednesday — an incident that raised questions about an officer’s use of force after a video of the encounter was widely circulated on social media. The man was arrested on suspicion of assaulting an officer, a claim the man denies in the video. The encounter comes at a time when policing is under scrutiny following the death of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis after a white police officer knelt on his neck. Floyd was black. The La Mesa Police Department released few details about the incident at the Grossmont Transit Center on Fletcher Parkway. In a statement, the department said it was aware of the video, which was shared on Youtube and Instagram.
“We immediately began a review of the incident to find out what happened,” the department said. “The La Mesa Police Department takes all allegations of misconduct very seriously and asks that any member of the public with information or video regarding this incident contact us at (619) 667-1400.” The department’s spokesman did not respond to multiple requests seeking additional information.
In a statement, the city said an outside investigator will look into the matter, with the help of the Liebert Cassidy Whitmore law firm. The investigator had been chosen but not yet hired.
“The city takes these matters very seriously, and consequently, in conjunction with the City Manager’s and City Attorney’s offices, has already begun the appropriate steps forward to investigate this matter thoroughly and take all necessary actions,” Mayor Mark Arapostathis said the statement.
The city said the officer was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation. The six-minute video starts with the man and officer standing face to face. The officer then pushes the man back, forcing him to sit on a concrete bench.
“Get out of my face. I just told you, get out of my face,” the officer tells the man. The man stands up and tells the officer he’s being “goofy as hell” and making a “big ass deal out of nothing.” “You’re the one that just smacked my hand. Sit down,” the officer says as he pushes the man onto the bench again. The man states that he was waiting for people, who had arrived and planned to leave. “I have no reason to be detained by you, bruh,” the man says as he stands up. The officer puts his hands on the man’s shoulders and forces the man to sit.
Other officers arrive and rush to handcuff the man.
“I already know what it is,” he says at one point. “I’m black as (expletive) out here. That’s what the issue is.”
The officer who initiated the contact eventually tells him he’s being arrested on suspicion of assault on an officer. Officers then walk him to a police vehicle.
“That’s messed up,” a bystander is heard yelling. “He didn’t touch (the officer). How are you going to charge him for assault?”
In response to the video, several community leaders criticized the officer’s actions and said incidents like Wednesday’s erode police-community relations.
“All of us in the African-American community know that if we put one single foot one single inch wrong, we may be thrown around, beaten up, have our necks knelt on, and then arrested to add insult to injury, assuming, of course, we even live to tell the tale,” said Francine Maxwell, president of the NAACP San Diego Branch.
Maxwell said officers must learn to de-escalate situations and manage what she characterized as their own anger.
“Officers should not be shoving people around,” she said in a statement.
She also faulted other officers for not stepping in to quell the officer’s aggression. “When officers intervene when one of their fellows are losing it, they protect both the citizen and that officer,” she said.
Dave Myers, a retired San Diego County sheriff’s commander whose career in law enforcement spanned 35 years, said he believes the officer was “out of control” and let his emotions get in the way. He said law enforcement officers are taught to go hands on to make an immediate arrest. Instead, the officer appeared to play a sort of “tug of war.
“The officer, to me, doesn’t know what he wants to do and/or doesn’t have proper training on arrest techniques,” he said. He said he believes a better course of action would have been to keep a distance and engage in conversation until back-up officers arrived.
Myers said he believes the police chief should release video of the incident immediately and hold community meetings to discuss the issue of race in policing.
The Police Department has not said whether it will release any body-worn camera video related to this incident.