Settlement Reached in Arlington Racial Profiling Case

Police Accountability, Racial Justice

Settlement Reached in Racial Profiling Case Filed By Young Black Man Against Arlington, MA Police 

Town Agrees To Systemic Reforms And Compensation 

Donovan Johnson, a young Black man who was stopped, held at gunpoint, and thrown to the ground by police in Arlington, Massachusetts who were chasing a white suspect, has settled his high-profile federal civil rights lawsuit against the Town of Arlington (“Town”), his attorneys announced today. The settlement requires the Town to undertake significant reforms to curb racial profiling, as well as to compensate Mr. Johnson for the harm done to him.  Mr. Johnson is represented by Lawyers for Civil Rights (“LCR”) and pro bono counsel from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP

The resolution stems from a 2021 incident where the Arlington Police Department (“APD”) racially profiled, stopped, and arrested Mr. Johnson as he was walking home.  The APD was actively pursuing a white man, known to them for a prior theft incident, and linked to a call for help from a nearby hotel in Arlington. As Mr. Johnson walked, he glimpsed the white man sprint past him on the sidewalk. 

Despite the APD’s active pursuit of a white man, officers suddenly turned their attention to Mr. Johnson. They stopped him at gunpoint, forcibly wrestled him to the ground, and proceeded with a wrongful arrest and search. His pleas to contact his mother and requests to loosen his handcuffs were ignored. APD released him without charges approximately 45 minutes later. 

Mr. Johnson sued in federal court, bringing nationwide attention to this incident of racial profiling. As a result of the settlement announced today, the Town will compensate Mr. Johnson and implement multiple reforms designed to eradicate racial profiling by APD in the future. Major reforms include:

  • Mandating annual in-person training for all sworn APD personnel on implicit bias, de-escalation, and cultural competency;
  • Hiring a consultant to analyze and recommend reforms to APD’s policy against racial profiling; 
  • Creating a de-escalation policy; and
  • Collecting and publicizing law enforcement data (i.e., arrest, stops, traffic stops) by race on APD’s website.

“As I put this haunting experience behind me, I hope that both the individual officers and the department learn from the new training and policy developments we have implemented,” said Mr. Johnson. “This is a nightmare that I will live with, but I am proud that my experience will improve police relations with communities of color and raise awareness about police interactions,” he added.

“We are pleased that the Town of Arlington has acknowledged that this incident presents an opportunity to reevaluate officer training and adopt reforms that prioritize respectful and dignified treatment for everyone who encounter the Arlington Police Department,” said Stephen Hall, pro bono counsel from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP for Mr. Johnson.

“Every police department benefits by keeping affected communities at the forefront. We hope other departments statewide will voluntarily undertake the type of reforms Arlington has agreed to in this settlement,” asserted Sophia Hall, Deputy Litigation Director at LCR.

“Mr. Johnson was a victim of a quintessential racial profiling case. He was presumed guilty simply for walking while being Black,” said Mirian AlbertSenior Attorney at LCR. “It has been a challenging journey for Mr. Johnson, but his resilience has spurred positive changes not only in his own encounters with the police but also for his community,” she added.