Lawsuit seeks federal oversight of Antioch police alleging racism and bigotry

Plaintiffs say they have been harrassed by Antioch police. They are being represented by civil rights attorney John Burris. April 20, 2023 

In a federal lawsuit eerily similar to one filed 20 years ago in Oakland, civil rights attorney John Burris says the police department in Antioch – 35 miles away – is rife with bigotry, racism, lies and unconstitutional force. 

The question of the police department's conduct has taken center stage following the revelations of offensive messages among city officers and others where they glibly talked about hurting the people they arrested. 

Burris and his team likened the poor treatment of Black and brown people in Antioch to how police treated people of color in Oakland in 2000, in what is now infamously known as the Riders scandal, where police beat people and planted evidence on them. 

Burris sued Oakland police in 2003, and the department has been under federal oversight ever since. Oakland police can only free themselves from this supervision if they meet 50 reforms, which they have yet to do. 

And that is why Burris' newest suit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Northern California, seeks the same type of federal oversight. 

"You have to rid the rottenness out," Burris said Thursday at a news conference. "This department is so fundamentally corrupted. We're looking at some type of oversight or monitor. Something needs to change. This suit is filed to move the agenda forward." 

Burris' colleague, attorney Ben Nisenbaum, said the virus that once plagued Oakland has made its way to the Antioch Police Department. 

Antioch and the police chief have yet to respond, though Chief Steven Ford apologized to the public for his officers' actions earlier this week. None of the police officers has spoken and neither has their attorney. 

The suit follows the release by the Contra Costa County District Attorney and the FBI of racist and homophobic texts by Antioch police officers revealed through a wider investigation into their actions of "moral turpitude." The text messages released show officers using the n-word and other offensive language. 

The plaintiffs in the suit are Trent Allen, Shagoofa Khan, Adam Carpenter, Joshua Butler, Diego Savala, the son of Guadalupe Savala, who was unarmed and killed by police in 2019. 

The defendants in the suit include officers Josh Evans, Eric Rombough, Morteza Amiri, Scott Duggar, John Ramirez and Timothy Manly Williams. Former Police Chief Tammany Brooks, Interim Police Chief Tony Morefield and current Chief Ford are also being sued, as the suit alleges they knew about this racist behavior and excessive force and did nothing about it.

For example, the texts show that one of the officers – Ramirez -- threatened Mayor Lamar Thorpe, who is Black, expressing his desire to launch a less-than-lethal missile at the mayor during a George Floyd protest. 

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

Khan, a police reform activist, was arrested in January 2021 for burning a "Blue Lives Matter" flag after Antioch police officers called it arson.

As part of the recent release of texts, it was revealed that Evans texted others that Khan resembled an "Arabian Knight's [sic] 'cum dump." 

Not only does she feel her arrest was unfair and unconstitutional, but Khan is upset that she was sexualized and the target of racism. 

"I was born and raised in the city of Antioch and I have a passion for it," Khan told KTVU. "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." 

Khan added: "These officers are not only cruel, but are treating humans like pieces of trash….I am ashamed of being from Antioch." 

Allen's mother, Shirrelle Cobbs, was among those who spoke.

Her son was beaten by officers and the subject of racist texts. Officers stomped on his chest and joked that his head was a soccer ball, she said. 

"I am devastated right now because my son could have been dead," Cobbs said. "But I'm his voice right now. I will keep using my voice until I get justice for my son." 

Shagoofa Khan is a plaintiff suing the Antioch Police Department. April 20, 2023

Adam Carpenter is suing the Antioch police department. 

Here is a synopsis of what the plaintiffs allege: 

  • Trent Allen: Beaten by Police Officer Eric Rombough on March 30, 2021. Officers kicked him in the head several times. Rombough bragged about his conduct, texting that he gave Allen "6 muzzle thumps" and he tried to kick Allen's head "over the fence." Rombough discussed knocking Allen unconscious and called him a f--ot and the N word. Rombough boasted about violating Allen's civil rights and said he only stopped people 'cuz they are black [sic]." Allen has been incarcerated since his arrest. Text messages show Manly joking about Allen getting beaten, asking Rombough, "is he dead?"
  • Shagoofa Khan: Khan, a police reform activist, was arrested in January 2021 for burning a "Blue Lives Matter" flag. Antioch police alleged arson.  Officer Josh Evans texted others that Khan resembled an "Arabian Knight's [sic] 'cum dump."
  • Adam Carpenter: Carpenter was arrested on Nov. 3, 2020 for possessing a firearm by Officers Eric Rombough, Scott Duggar, Morteza Amiri and Timothy Manly Williams. Duggar sent texts to a circle of other officers, referring to Black people as the N-word.  Rombough admitted in texts that he "sometimes just say people gave me a full confession when they didn't. gets filed easier." The firearm charges were dropped. Still, he was the subject of at least 10 traffic stops over 11 months. Carpenter said that police robbed him of his money, which they didn't document, when they arrested him. "You don't have a voice when you deal with a system like this," Carpenter said at a news conference.
  • Joshua Butler: Butler was arrested in February 2022 for allegedly discharging a firearm, despite never finding a weapon. Officers have conducted nearly 10 traffic stops on him, each time, accosting him with racial obscenities. None of these traffic stops have resulted in arrests. Butler is currently fighting his charges in court.