Officers Pursuing White Suspect Arrested an Innocent Black Man Instead

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This photo provided by Irina Danilova shows Donovan Johnson at Boston Common in Boston, Nov. 17, 2019. A civil rights lawsuit filed Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, says Johnson was minutes away from his home after leaving his job at a hospital in February 2021 when an officer who was chasing a white suspect ran up to Johnson, drew his gun and threw him to the snow-covered ground face first.
This photo provided by Irina Danilova shows Donovan Johnson at Boston Common in Boston, Nov. 17, 2019. A civil rights lawsuit filed Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, says Johnson was minutes away from his home after leaving his job at a hospital in February 2021 when an officer who was chasing a white suspect ran up to Johnson, drew his gun and threw him to the snow-covered ground face first.

A Boston police officer who was chasing a white suspect pinned down a 20-year-old Black man while he was walking home. According to The Associated Press, a federal civil rights lawsuit was filed following the incident and the suspect was not connected to the man they arrested.

Donovan Johnson was just minding his business, walking home one evening in February 2021 when a white man jogged past him. That man was actually running from the police who had detained him moments earlier at a hotel where he was suspected of stealing televisions, according to the lawsuit. However, Officer Steven Conroy yelled at both of the men to get on the ground, drawing his gun. Then, he threw Johnson to the ground and pinned him down with his knee on his neck.

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According to the complaint, Johnson yelled, “I can’t breathe!” but was still being restrained while the suspect at hand was left “unattended.”

More on the case from AP News:

Another officer who arrived in a cruiser recognized the white man and put him in handcuffs, and the suspect told the officer he didn’t know Johnson, according to the lawsuit. A third officer who arrived “immediately jumped on” Johnson to help Conroy hold him down, according to the complaint.

The white man was “known to police” for “prior criminal acts” and when officers arrived at the hotel, officer Steven Conroy showed a photo of the man to the front desk clerk, who said it appeared to be the same person.

Lawyers for Johnson say the officers had no reason to believe Johnson was involved in any crime: Police had a photo of the white suspect they were looking for, Johnson and the other man both told officers they didn’t know each other and “nothing in the investigation indicated that there was more than one male suspect involved,” the lawsuit says.

Johnson was left traumatized by the experience. Not only was he unlawfully arrested by police but he was also restrained in the same manner as George Floyd which led to his death. Johnson said in an interview he had struggled daily because of the incident and almost lost his job as a grants administrator for a hospital.

Johnson’s lawyers found in an internal investigation that the officers violated several department policies and procedures. Plus, there was no evidence that he had been involved in any crime. His only crime was walking while Black.

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