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‘A Quintessential Racial Profiling Case’: Federal Lawsuit Filed Against Massachusetts Police Officer Who Arrested a Black Man While Searching for White Suspect

A federal lawsuit alleges members of a Massachusetts police force violated a Black man’s civil rights by arresting him for a crime, he knew based on a description from the victim, he did not commit. The law enforcement had a photograph of the person of interest, still, the African American was violently detained, cuffed, and held in a patrol cruiser for questioning.

On Wednesday, Aug. 3, Donovan Johnson filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in a Boston federal court against the city of Arlington and three officers from the Arlington Police Department. The lawsuit is regarding the Feb. 10, 2021, altercation, where one white officer held him at gunpoint, mushed him face-first into the snow-covered ground, and pinned him down using the cop’s knee square on his neck, despite knowing he was not the person he was in pursuit of.

The complaint claims members of the APD violated Johnson’s constitutional rights, as provided by the fourth and fourteenth amendments, when they stopped, searched, and handcuffed him for a crime he did not commit, and they had no evidence connecting him.

The then-20-year-old was allegedly getting off from work and was minutes away from his Sommerville home. when he encountered the APD and the white suspect, identified in the lawsuit as Kyle T., they were looking to apprehend.

Police were responding to a call from the Arlington Hotel, where a clerk believed one of the guests had stolen televisions from the property. When the staffer described to the officers the man they thought was stealing, and as if recognizing the man based on the characterization, connected him to a person who had committed other crimes in the area. One officer showed the staffer a picture of a man that might be the alleged suspect and they confirmed that could be the man.

The photograph was of a white man. The cop who showed the pic was Officer Steven Conroy.

The staffer disclosed the room that man had been staying in, but by the time officers approached his room he escaped. As they continued to chase the man down the street, the suspect ran past Johnson. Officer Conroy caught up to the suspect and commanded that he “get the [expletive] on the floor.” However, because Johnson was close by, he directed the command to him also. The suspect allegedly complied, getting on his knees, but Johnson did not, the complaint said. He remained standing not knowing he was being pursued for a crime. Conroy then drew a gun and threw Johnson to the ground,

The lawsuit says as Johnson yelled, “I can’t breathe,” the officer “continued to pin Mr. Johnson to the ground with his knee,” leaving the white suspect who was identified in a picture by the 911 caller, “left unattended.”

Eventually, another officer arrived and cuffed the white suspect, who as he was being detained said he did not know Johnson. By this time, a third officer joined Conroy and helped to oppress the innocent man.

After being detained, Johnson remained in ADP custody in the back of a patrol cruiser until hotel employees informed the police officers that they didn’t know who the African-American was.

It was at this point, the police released Johnson, filing no charges.

The lawsuit says “his entire detention lasted approximately 45 minutes.”

A few days after the incident, the claim shares, “Conroy prepared a police report stating that a connection between Mr. Johnson and, ‘Kyle T.’ existed on the CopLink database, a tool that integrates various law enforcement databases.”

“However, there was no connection between Mr. Johnson and Mr. T on the CopLink database,” the filing confirms.

“I was wrongfully arrested and wrongfully searched just because of the fact that he thought I was the person that he was chasing down,” Johnson said, according to The Guardian.

Since the altercation, Johnson has acquired representation. His lawyers share an internal investigation concluded the APD officers associated with his detainment officers violated policies and procedures.

The attorneys said, “this is a quintessential racial profiling case. The Arlington Police Department had no evidence that Mr. Johnson was involved in a crime, in fact to the contrary, witnesses informed the police that he was not involved. Yet, at the end of the day, Mr. Johnson was humiliated and physically violated.”

Mirian Albert of Lawyers for Civil Rights, who is working with Johnson stated this was a form of racial profiling that needs to be ended.

“All people should feel safe in their own communities,” Albert said to the Associated Press. “Mr. Johnson’s rights were violated within view of his home, and this is exactly the type of police misconduct that fuels mistrust between communities of color and law enforcement.”

His lawyers said, “Nothing in the investigation indicated that there was more than one male suspect involved.”

Conroy said in an investigative report, the reason why Johnson was stopped and included in the pursuit was because “he reached out and grabbed him by the arm … so he could further investigate the situation,” CNN reported.

The local investigation of the incident stated, “the Arlington Police Department Use of Force Policy and Procedure … appears to have been complied with” continuing by adding that they, “found no evidence to support (name redacted) claim that he had been racially profiled.”

However, the review of the case noted the officers did violate several department policies regarding arrests outside of their jurisdiction, the proper method of handcuffing, and evidence seizure, urging officials to provide “additional training” in those areas.

Johnson’s team is asking for compensatory and punitive damages determined by a jury trial.

The Arlington police chief, Julie Flaherty, said he could not comment as the department nor the town has been served the lawsuit.

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