BOSTON– A suburban Boston police officer pursuing a white suspect pinned a 20-year-old black man to the ground as he walked home and placed a knee on the man’s neck when he had no no evidence he was involved in a crime, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Wednesday.
Donovan Johnson was minutes from home after leaving work in February 2021 when a white officer pursuing the white suspect ran towards Johnson, drew his gun and threw him on the snowy ground first, the trial was brought against the city of Arlington, Mass., and three of its officers allege.
The lawsuit says the officer at one point pinned Johnson to the ground by placing a knee on Johnson’s neck. The complaint says Johnson shouted ‘I can’t breathe!’, but the officer ‘continued to pin Mr Johnson to the ground with his knee’, while the white suspect the police were pursuing ‘was left unattended “.
The lawsuit in Boston federal court alleges police violated Johnson’s constitutional rights when they arrested, searched, handcuffed and placed him in the back of a cruiser before releasing him without charge.
Johnson said in an interview that the incident had such an emotional impact on him that he found it difficult to manage his daily life to the point where he almost lost his job as a grants administrator for a hospital.
“I was wrongly stopped and wrongly 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 could not comment because neither the police nor the city had yet received a lawsuit.
Johnson’s attorneys say an internal investigation found the officers violated several department policies and procedures. One of Johnson’s lawyers, Mirian Albert of Lawyers for Civil Rights, said they hope the case will bring about systemic changes to stamp out racial profiling practices in the department.
“Everyone should feel safe in their own community. Mr. Johnson’s rights have been violated within sight of his home and it is exactly the type of police misconduct that fuels mistrust between communities of color and law enforcement,” she said. .
Police were first called to an Arlington hotel about a man who had been seen there who staff said had previously been involved in the theft of television sets, according to the lawsuit. The white man was ‘known to police’ for ‘prior criminal acts’ and when officers arrived at the hotel Constable Steven Conroy showed a picture of the man to the receptionist, who said that it seemed to be the same person.
Police went to the room to investigate, but the man escaped and they began to chase him, according to the lawsuit. Johnson, who was almost at home in Somerville, saw the man walk past him before Conroy approached and yelled at the two men to ‘put the (expletive) down’.
The white suspect knelt, but Johnson remained standing, according to the lawsuit. After that, Johnson says Conroy pulled out his gun, threw him to the ground and pinned him down with a knee on his neck.
Another officer who arrived in a cruiser recognized the white man and handcuffed him, and the suspect told the officer he did not know Johnson, according to the lawsuit. A third officer who arrived “immediately jumped on” Johnson to help Conroy restrain him, according to the complaint.
Johnson’s lawyers 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 both told officers that they did not know each other and “nothing in the investigation indicated that there was more than one male suspect involved,” the lawsuit states.
The complaint says Johnson was released at the hotel after his staff told officers they had never seen him before. Police left him to find his way home on his own, according to the lawsuit.