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Civil rights lawsuit filed against Arlington police over alleged racial profiling incident

"This is the type of police misconduct that is precisely what fuels the mistrust between communities of color and law enforcement," said Mirian Albert, staff attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights.

Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of Donovan Johnson, a 20-year-old who was allegedly racially profiled by Arlington police in February 2021.


LCR filed the lawsuit with pro bono counsel Stephen Hall of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, naming the department as well as three individual police officers in the complaint, according to a statement. The suit alleges that Johnson was racially profiled, illegally stopped, and arrested within view of his Somerville home. 

Arlington Police Chief Juliann Flaherty said she could not comment on the matter.

“The Police Department hasn’t been served yet, so at this time I’m not able to comment on anything,” Flaherty told Boston.com. 


According to LCR, the incident occurred on Feb. 10, 2021, in the early evening, when Johnson, a Black man who works as a grants administrator at Mass General Brigham, was apprehended by Arlington police officers while walking home from CVS.

Police received a call from Homewood Suites Hotel in Arlington about a white male suspect, who was known to both the hotel and police for an earlier theft, according to LCR. When police arrived, the white male suspect ran from the hotel, and police officers chased him, according to the statement.

The white male suspect ran past Johnson. When police arrested the suspect, they also apprehended Johnson, despite knowing the man they were looking for was white, LCR said.

According to LCR, the suspect immediately and adamantly denied knowing Johnson, but police officers didn’t let him go.

“The white officer kept yelling for me to get on the ground while he held me at gunpoint, and he refused to listen when I told him that I was just walking home, and I didn’t know this other man,” Johnson said in the statement.

Citizens filmed the incident, catching Johnson telling the officers he was struggling to breathe, according to the LCR statement. One of the officers allegedly responded by jamming his fingers through Johnson’s face mask and into his mouth in an attempt to silence him, according to LCR.


Before releasing Johnson, officers brought him to the hotel for an unsuccessful witness identification, according to the statement.

“The Arlington Police Department’s misconduct then triggered an internal investigation that found multiple violations of department policies and protocols, but they failed to implement any meaningful change that would prevent Mr. Johnson’s nightmare from repeating itself,” Mirian Albert, staff attorney at LCR, told Boston.com. 

The fact that the incident took place in sight of Johnson’s home meant that he didn’t feel safe in his own community, according to LCR.

LCR said it hopes that the lawsuit forces systematic changes in the department that would ultimately “eradicate racial profiling practices.”

“This is the type of police misconduct that is precisely what fuels the mistrust between communities of color and law enforcement,” Albert said.


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