Donovan Johnson of Somervillephoto courtesy Lawyers for Civil Rights

APD staff to undergo training, report statistics on arrestees' race: attorneys

UPDATED Feb. 10: The town Monday, Feb. 5, released a brief statement about a settlement recently reached with a Somerville resident arrested three years ago in what his attorneys say was a cruel, groundless racial profiling.

In earlier media reports, that conduct was described as including being pinned by the neck, causing difficulty breathing, though neither action is being alleged now.

"We are able to confirm the Town of Arlington and Mr. Johnson reached a settlement and mutually agreed to bring this matter to a resolution. Unfortunately, because the Settlement Agreement is confidential, we are unable to legally comment on its contents," begins the joint statement conveyed by the town in the names of Town Manager Jim Feeney and Police Chief Julie Flaherty.

However, Tuesday evening, town spokeswoman Joan Roman provided some additional information as YourArlington had requested: "Mr. Johnson will receive $80k, and Lawyers for Civil Rights will receive $15k."

She also specified, responding to another YourArlington inquiry, that two of the three officers mentioned by name in the now-settled lawsuit -- Brendan Flynn and Stephen Porciello -- still work for the department; in contrast, the third, Steven Conroy, left the APD in the winter of 2022, Roman said.

However, "The settlement [itself] is a confidential document," Roman added.

The lawsuit was filed about 18 months ago. More details about that; the rest of the town's statement; the plaintiff's attorneys' own, lengthy statement; the plaintiff's photograph; and related articles and other context are below.

Town seal

"The Town of Arlington and its police department remain committed to providing professional, respectful, equitable, and effective services to all. The Arlington Police Department strives to build strong relationships by working directly with residents and community partners to enhance the safety and well-being of the entire community. As an accredited police department, APD continually evaluates its policies and procedures and adopts those that are considered best practices in policing and are in line with 21st century policing," the Feb. 5 joint town-police statement concludes.

Mr. Johnson is Donovan Johnson of Somerville, a person of color who was walking outside in East Arlington as APD officers were seeking a Caucasian suspect. Johnson is represented by Lawyers for Civil Rights and another law firm; in their own recent statement, Johnson's attorneys describe their view of what occurred in winter 2021 and list what they say are many of the agreed-upon requirements for training, consulting and reporting at the APD. Those attorneys via email had declined to state the settlement's terms of monetary compensation to their client, though its existence is implied in their website statement.

Plaintiff's attorneys' statement in full

The attorneys' statement, on their website, is as follows:

"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 [date not indicated]. 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 & SutcliffLLP. 

"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 [day/date not provided], 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."

Johnson, in the statement on his attorneys' website, is quoted as saying the following: “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. 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.” 

Johnson's attorneys' statement continues as follows: “ '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 Albert, Senior 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."

From the statement itself, the filing date of the lawsuit is not obvious. Its contents, as seen on the website, indicate that the incident took place Feb. 10, 2021. The law firm provided a photograph late Thursday evening Feb. 8; it was inserted into the article, as above, Feb. 10.

Brief background on the case

An Aug. 4, 2022, article by YourArlington specifies the date of the lawsuit's filing as Aug. 3, 2022 -- and relates things that took place in 2021 and in 2022; that article contains a lengthy previous joint statement by the town and police from Aug. 5, 2022, part of which is as follows:

"The Arlington Police Department was previously aware of the allegations made by Mr. Johnson and had retained the services of an outside, licensed private detective to conduct an investigation to determine if the officers violated any APD policies, procedures, rules or regulations. A thorough review was conducted by the outside investigator, involving interviews of the officers, Mr. Johnson, witnesses and others as well as the review of documents and files, including video clips, incident reports, policies and procedures and radio transmissions. The investigation found no evidence to support a claim of racial profiling or excessive use of force.

"The investigator did find that officers violated some department policies, and as a result of the outside investigation, three officers were disciplined, one officer and the sergeant received mandatory retraining and the sergeant received remedial supervisor training. The third officer later left the department. Additionally, four specific recommendations were given regarding training, retraining and policy revisions that were relevant to all members of the Arlington Police Department. All of the recommendations were implemented without delay."

The community of Arlington has been publicly wrestling with race-related issues for nearly half-a dozen years. In February 2022, a 51-page equity audit, prepared by a consultant, was released by the town, with numerous suggestions for improvements to achieve equity.

Feb. 22, 2023: First equity audit uncovers town road map for pursuing greater diversity

This account was published Monday, Feb. 5, 2024, based on information from the Town of Arlington, Lawyers for Civil Rights and YourArlington's files; recent statements fro m the town and from that law firm are unedited except for eliminating extra space, bolding and italics. The article was updated Feb. 6with information from the town as to the settlement's monetary terms and the status of three Arlington Police Department employees named in the initial filing of the now-settled lawsuit; Feb. 8 to note the receipt of a photograph from the law firm; and Feb. 10, to place that photograph/caption, and for some minor wordsmithing.