Civil rights Lawsuit

Arlington Police Deny Racial Profiling Claim, But Say Policies Were Violated

The man who filed a civil rights lawsuit said he was racially profiled, illegally stopped and arrested back in February

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Three Arlington, Massachusetts, police officers were disciplined following a February incident that sparked allegations of racial profiling and excessive force, the department said after a lawsuit was filed earlier this week.

While Arlington police deny that there is evidence to support a claim of racial profiling or excessive use of force, they said in a statement Friday that an outside investigation into the incident found that officers violated some department policies, which resulted in three officers being disciplined.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit is 20-year-old Donovan Johnson, a Black man who said he was racially profiled, illegally stopped and arrested back in February.

The lawsuit says Arlington police responded to reports of a theft at the Homewood Suites and were told the suspect was a white male. As officers set out on their search, Johnson said he was walking home from a local CVS when a white man ran past him. That's when officers allegedly took Johnson and the white male suspect into custody.

Johnson said the entire incident was traumatic.

"He put his knee on my head and he was there for a good minute," he said in an interview. "And I was yelling 'I can't breathe.' And then I guess eventually another officer came and that's when he finally let go. They picked me up and sat me down on the floor and another officer came to search me."

Donovan Johnson, a 20-year-old Black man, says he was racially profiled, illegally stopped and arrested in February.

In the Friday release, which was jointly issued by the town and its police force, Arlington officials said the municipality has not yet been served the lawsuit, and only learned of it through a news release and media inquiries. Officials were previously made aware of the allegations mentioned in the suit, though, and said they hired an "outside, licensed private detective to conduct an investigation to determine if the officers violated any APD policies, procedures, rules or regulations."

That outside investigator interviewed officers, Johnson, witnesses and reviewed documents, audio and video related to the incident. Arlington officials said that investigation showed no evidence that supported a claim of racial profiling or excessive use of force.

The investigation did find, however, that officers violated some department policies. One officer and the sergeant got mandatory retraining, and the sergeant got remedial supervisor training. A third officer left the department.

Four recommendations were given regarding training, retraining and policy revisions that applied to all Arlington officers, which have been implemented. Those recommendations were not specifically outlined in Friday's news release.

"The Town of Arlington Police Department is committed to providing equal and fair justice to all its residents and visitors," Town Manager Sandy Pooler and Police Chief Julie Flaherty wrote in a joint statement. "It trains its staff to administer justice without regard to race and conducts ongoing training in diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Attorneys representing Johnson are apparently not satisfied with the results of the investigation.

"The unlawful conduct Mr. Johnson experienced is all too commonplace," Mirian Albert, a staff attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights, wrote in a release earlier this week. "APD’s internal investigation exposed flaws in the department training, but this lawsuit will ensure that APD makes meaningful and long-lasting policy changes."

The Town of Arlington said it plans to review the allegations in the suit and "vigorously" defend itself against them.

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