Antioch police racist texting scandal: Civil rights attorney John Burris preparing federal lawsuit

Civil rights attorney John Burris on Wednesday told KTVU he is preparing a federal lawsuit on behalf of five people reportedly targeted in racist text messages and other acts by Antioch Police Department officers. 

The department is currently embroiled in a scandal involving 45 of its officers. The officers have allegedly engaged in text message chains that are racist, homophobic and threatening, according to Contra Costa County officials. 

Last week, Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigations released a report that details the content of some of those texts involving 14 of the officers. They concluded the officers involved may have violated the Racial Justice Act. Dozens of messages were exchanged. 

Law Offices of John Burris are expected to hold a news conference Thursday morning where the federal lawsuit will officially be announced. 

"One of the problems we have here is that this verbalness and contact was pervasive. It lasted over two or three years and involved a number of officers," said Burris. He characterized the text messages as "horrific." 

"They were talking about how they would beat people up or kick them in the head," Burris said. He talked about how one officer referred to using a .40 mm on Mayor Lamar Thorpe, who is Black. 

MORE: Antioch Police Department’s text message scandal: here's what to know

Investigators also found pictures comparing Black people with gorillas. The D.A. and FBI report also indicated potential civil rights violations, perjury and abuse from 2019 through 2022. 

Burris said he is filing the federal lawsuit to shine a light on the failure of the entire police department to hold its officers accountable for civil rights violations. He said his office is still getting calls, aside from the five plaintiffs, from others who want to join in the lawsuit. 

"The emails were sent and the text was sent directly to 35-40 people in different times, and some of whom are sergeants and who were lieutenants. They were supervisors. And that is the group of people that you expect to hold officers under control and keep them in line, but that didn't happen," said Burris. 

Burris said the lawsuit will seek damages for the plaintiffs and systemic change within the police department.

KTVU spoke with one of the plaintiffs, a social justice activist, who says she was repeatedly targeted. 


Community rallies to demand accountability in Antioch police racist text scandal

Community members marched and rallied outside police headquarters to demand reforms to the city's police department following reports released by the Contra Costa County District Attorney revealing racist text messages sent by more than a dozen officers.

"A statement within the text messages, [used] a racial and sexualized statement about me. And there are officers who have not only harassed me, but targeted me through prosecution for me using my first amendment rights for protesting," said plaintiff Shagoofa Khan. "I was born and raised in the city of Antioch and I have a passion for it. I'm not here targeting or hating on the police. I don't hate all police officers. I'm here just wanting accountability. I'm here just wanting justice for families." 

The location of Burris' news conference on Thursday will be on the steps of the Antioch Police Department, where he and the plaintiffs will gather, and they will have more details on the lawsuit. 

KTVU reached out to the chief of the Antioch Police Department and the city of Antioch, but has not yet heard back. We will update this story with the latest developments.