A Massachusetts police department whose officers are accused of wrongfully arresting a Black man while pursuing a white suspect said Friday that an outside investigation found no evidence of racial profiling.
The town manager for Arlington, a Boston suburb, and its police chief said in an emailed statement that the town intends to “vigorously defend” itself against the allegations made in the federal civil rights lawsuit filed this week.
Police have not responded to questions about whether the officers involved were wearing body cameras or whether the department uses them, but there is no body camera footage listed among the information reviewed in the investigator’s report.
Donovan Johnson alleged in the case filed in Boston federal court that a white officer who had been chasing a white suspect grabbed him, threw him to the ground and pinned him there with a knee on his neck as he was walking home after work one day in February last year.
Johnson’s lawsuit against the town of Arlington and three of its police officers alleges that his constitutional rights were violated when police stopped him, searched him, and placed him in the back of a cruiser before releasing him with no charges.
The town said Friday that police previously hired a licensed private detective — a former police officer in another Massachusetts town —to look into the allegations.
The investigator concluded that the officer followed proper use of force policy and that there was no evidence of racial profiling. The investigator also said the officer denied race played any role in his decision to stop the man and told the investigator he believed Johnson was an accomplice to the white suspect.
The investigation also concluded there was no evidence Johnson had committed any crime before he was stopped.
The investigative report said Officer Steven Conroy, who Johnson alleges stopped him, also denied pulling out a gun or placing a knee on the man’s neck. A message seeking comment was sent to Conroy by The Associated Press. Conroy’s LinkedIn page shows he has since left the police department.
The investigator did find that the officers violated some department policies and three officers were disciplined, the town said.
“I believe in the Arlington Police Department. Its track record is one of balanced, honest and progressive policing,” Town Manager Sandy Pooler said in the statement.
Johnson’s lawsuit says police were initially called to an Arlington hotel about a man seen there who the staff believed was previously involved in the theft of televisions. The white man was “known to police” for “prior criminal acts” and when officers arrived at the hotel, Conroy showed a photo of the man to the front desk clerk, who said it appeared 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 to his Somerville home, saw the man jog past him before Conroy approached and yelled at both men to “get the (expletive) on the floor.”
The white suspect got on his knees, but Johnson stayed standing, the lawsuit says. Johnson says Conroy threw him to the ground and pinned him there by placing a knee on his neck. The complaint says Johnson at one point yelled “I can’t breathe!”
Another officer who arrived in a cruiser recognized the white man and put him in handcuffs, and the suspect told the officer he didn’t know Johnson, according to the lawsuit. A third officer who arrived “immediately jumped on” Johnson to help Conroy hold him down, according to the complaint.
Johnson’s attorneys say the officers had no reason to believe he was involved in any crime: Police had a photo of the white suspect they were looking for, Johnson and the other man both told officers they didn’t know each other, and “nothing in the investigation indicated that there was more than one male suspect involved,” the lawsuit says.
The complaint says Johnson was released at the hotel after its staff told officers they had never seen him before.
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