Police chasing white suspect wrongly arrests black man

BOSTON (AP) – A Boston suburban police officer chasing a white suspect pinned a 20-year-old black man to the ground as he walked home and put a knee on the man’s neck, despite there being no evidence that he was involved in every crime, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Wednesday.

Donovan Johnson was minutes away from home after he left work in February 2021 when a white officer who had been chasing the white suspect ran over to Johnson, drew his gun and threw him on the snowy ground first, filing the lawsuit against the city of Arlington, Massachusetts, and three of his officers.

The lawsuit says the officer pinned Johnson to the ground at one point by placing a knee on Johnson’s neck. According to the indictment, Johnson yelled, “I can’t breathe!”, but the officer “continued to press Mr. Johnson to the ground with his knee,” while the white suspect chasing police was “left unattended.”

The lawsuit filed in Boston Federal Court alleges that police violated Johnson’s constitutional rights when they stopped, searched, handcuffed him and put him in the back of a cruiser before releasing him without charge.

Johnson said in an interview that the incident took such an emotional toll on him that he struggled so much to manage his day-to-day life that he nearly lost his job as a hospital grant manager.

“I was wrongfully arrested and searched just because he thought I was the person he was chasing,” Johnson said.

Arlington Police Chief Julie Flaherty said in an email that police were unable to comment as neither the police nor the city had been given the lawsuit.

Johnson’s attorneys said an internal investigation revealed that the agents violated several of the department’s policies and procedures. One of Johnson’s attorneys, Mirian Albert of Lawyers for Civil Rights, said they hope the case brings systemic changes to stamp out racial profiling in the department.

“All people should feel safe in their own community. Mr Johnson’s rights were violated in view of his home and this is exactly the kind of police misconduct that fuels mistrust between communities of color and law enforcement officers,” she said.

Police were initially called to an Arlington hotel about a man seen there who staff previously believed was involved in the theft of televisions, the lawsuit says. The white man was “known to the police” for “prior criminal acts” and when officers arrived at the hotel, Officer Steven Conroy showed a photo of the man to the receptionist, who said it appeared to be the same person.

Police went to the room to investigate, but the man escaped and they began chasing him, according to the lawsuit. Nearing his home in Somerville, Johnson saw the man jogging past him before Conroy approached and yelled at both men to “get the (expletive) on the ground.”

The white suspect got on his knees, but Johnson remained standing, the lawsuit says. Then Johnson said Conroy drew his gun, threw him to the ground, and held him with one knee to his neck.

Another officer who arrived in a cruiser recognized the white man and handcuffed him, and the defendant told the officer he did not know Johnson, according to the lawsuit. A third officer who arrived “immediately jumped up” Johnson to help Conroy detain him, according to the complaint.

Johnson’s attorneys say officers had no reason to believe Johnson was involved in a crime: Police had a photo of the white suspect they were looking for, Johnson and the other man told officers they didn’t know each other and that “Nothing in the investigation indicated that more than one male suspect was involved,” the lawsuit said.

According to the complaint, Johnson was released from the hotel after staff told officers they had never seen him before. Police left him to find his own way home, the lawsuit says.

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