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Arlington police responds to racial profiling lawsuit

The lawsuit concerns an incident from February 2021, during which Arlington police officers are alleged to have racially profiled a 20-year-old Black man.

After Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Wednesday against the Arlington Police Department, the department and the town responded Friday with a joint statement that said Arlington will “vigorously defend itself against the allegations.”

Civil rights lawsuit:

The lawsuit concerns an incident from February 2021, during which LCR alleges that Arlington police officers racially profiled a 20-year-old Black man named Donovan Johnson. 

They apprehended Donovan while chasing a white man they knew was the suspect, and wouldn’t let him go even after the suspect said he didn’t know Johnson, according to the suit.

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They held Johnson on the ground at gunpoint and one officer jammed his fingers into Johnson’s mouth to silence him even after he said he was struggling to breathe, the lawsuit alleges.

In their response to the suit, Arlington police said they took action after the initial allegations were made following the incident by hiring a private detective to “conduct an investigation to determine if the officers violated any APD policies, procedures, rules or regulations.”

“The investigation found no evidence to support a claim of racial profiling or excessive use of force,” Arlington police said.

The investigator did, however, find that officers violated some policies, which resulted in discipline and re-training. He also gave four specific recommendations for all members of the Arlington Police Department, which, they say, were implemented “without delay.” 

However, “Mr. Johnson was not satisfied with the transparency or outcome of the investigation,” said Mirian Albert, staff attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights. “The investigation gives us some pause as to its objectivity and reliability as it was conducted by a former police officer and lasted all but a few weeks.”

She added that the discipline is not a “meaningful deterrent” for police officers to engage in this kind of behavior. They are proceeding to court because they think that is the way to hold the Arlington police department accountable, Albert said.

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Police Chief Juliann Flaherty and Town Manager Sandy Pooler, meanwhile, said they maintained their pride and belief in the Arlington police department.

“They serve persons with substance use disorders and mental health issues in non-criminal ways. They use de-escalation tactics and champion causes like restorative justice. Every department employee has been trained on implicit bias and ongoing, advanced training is planned for later this year,” the statement said. 

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