Federal Suit Against Police for Racially Profiling Black Man in Arlington, MA

Police Accountability, Racial Justice

Arlington Police Department Racially Profiles Young Black Man Walking Home

Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit Filed to Address Racial Profiling and Excessive Force

Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) and pro bono counsel, Stephen Hall of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Donovan Johnson, a 20-year-old Black man and a Grants Administrator for Mass General Brigham, who was racially profiled, illegally stopped, and arrested within view of his Somerville home by the Arlington Police Department (APD). The complaint names the department as well as three individual police officers. 

On the early evening of February 10, 2021, APD responded to a call for assistance from Homewood Suites Hotel in Arlington, Massachusetts, regarding a white man known to the hotel and APD for a prior theft. As APD arrived to investigate, the white male suspect escaped the hotel, and APD officers gave chase. At that time, Mr. Johnson walked home from CVS, his home visible over the short distance. While walking, he saw a white man rush past him on the sidewalk. Unbeknownst to him, that white man was the Homewood Suites suspect that was being pursued by APD officers. What followed was a nightmare that Mr. Johnson will never forget. 

Despite APD being in pursuit of a white man, and having no information regarding additional suspects, APD police officers apprehended Mr. Johnson along with the white suspect. “An ordinary day suddenly became a nightmare,” said Mr. Johnson. “The white officer kept yelling for me to get on the ground while he held me at gun point, and he refused to listen when I told him that I was just walking home, and I didn’t know this other man.” The white suspect also immediately and adamantly denied knowing Mr. Johnson, but it had no effect on APD officers.

Concerned citizens filmed as two APD officers conducted an illegal search and arrest. Mr. Johnson told the officers that he struggled to breathe and called out for his mother. APD officers ignored his pleas, instead one officer attempted to silence Mr. Johnson by jamming his fingers through Mr. Johnson’s facemask into his mouth. Before APD finally released Mr. Johnson without any criminal charges, APD officers transported him to the hotel for what was ultimately an unsuccessful witness identification by hotel staff as he was not the white male suspect at issue.

Mr. Johnson’s unlawful arrest triggered an internal investigation by APD that failed to take effective remedial measures and disregarded the harm he suffered. “Effective police reform cannot be spearheaded by law enforcement absent community input from those most affected by police mistrust and police misconduct,” said Sophia Hall, Deputy Litigation Director at Lawyers for Civil Rights. “Police departments cannot police themselves.” 

“Today’s lawsuit highlights the severe consequences of failing to adequately train police officers in basic law enforcement protocols as well as implicit bias,” said Stephen Hallpro bono counsel, for Mr. Donovan. 

“The unlawful conduct Mr. Johnson experienced is all too commonplace,” said Mirian Albert, Staff Attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights. “APD’s internal investigation exposed flaws in the department training, but this lawsuit will ensure that APD makes meaningful and long-lasting policy changes.”

The complaint is available here: