A federal civil rights lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges that an Arlington, Mass., officer searching for a white suspect pinned a black man to the ground, put a knee on his neck and held him down.
The man, Donovan Johnson, was walking home from work one day in February 2021 when the white officer approached him, pulled his gun and threw him face first to the ground. Johnson was eventually released without being charged with a crime, but not before being handcuffed and placed in the back of a police cruiser.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Boston, alleges the officer violated Johnson’s civil rights. Mr Johnson said the wrongful arrest was so traumatic that he struggled to navigate daily life in the weeks and months that followed and nearly lost his job as a grants administrator for a local hospital.
The complaint said Mr. Johnson at one point screamed, “I can’t breathe!” after the officer had pinned him to the snowy February ground with his knee, to no avail.
The complaint also alleges that the officer who confronted Mr. Johnson had no reason to believe he was a person of interest in the crime he was investigating or any other matter. Arlington Police Chief Julie Flaherty declined to comment on the lawsuit when asked from the Associated Press.
Police that day had been called to an Arlington hotel about a man the staff believed had previously stolen televisions. The man, who was white, was already known to local police for his involvement in other criminal activities, and a hotel employee who was shown a photo of the man confirmed that he appeared to be the same person they were calling about.
Police went to speak to the suspect in his room, but he fled. According to the lawsuit, police were chasing him down a street when the suspect allegedly ran by Johnson. Moments later, Officer Stephen Conroy approached and told Johnson and the suspect to “get the [expletive] on the floor”.
The suspect complied, but Mr. Johnson remained standing. He was then thrown to the ground and remained in police custody until hotel employees told officers they had never seen him before.
Mirian Albert, one of the lawyers representing Mr Johnson, he said The AP said the case is emblematic of the issues of systemic racism people face in police departments across the country.
“All people should feel safe in their communities,” Ms Albert said. “Mr. Johnson’s rights were violated in front of his home, and this is exactly the type of police misconduct that fuels distrust between communities of color and law enforcement.”