ANTIOCH, Calif. - 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.
The protesters called for justice and some shared stories of questionable police conduct before they marched to Antioch City Hall ahead of the special city council meeting.
"The community wants accountability," said organizer Devin Williams. "We want justice for those who have been murdered by this police department. They need to be fired."
In total, roughly 45 officers have been accused in the broad investigation into the department by local prosecutors and the FBI for crimes of "moral turpitude," a legal term for gravely violating community standards and morals.
"You can’t hide behind the badge anymore and do harm to the community," Antioch Mayor Pro Tempore Tamisha Torrez-Walker said, "You [need to] have a robust recruitment strategy to bring in individuals who don’t just want to police the community but be a part of the community, want to be a part of the culture and build strong relationships under the guise of community policing."
Antioch's mayor is also calling for an independent audit of the police department wants the officers terminated.
Newly revealed racist text messages show exchanges between 17 current officers at the department have now become the public focus of this investigation.
Examples of some of those texts were released last week, and a second batch on Monday.
They included racial epithets and officers bragging about beating up Black men they'd arrested and "kicking them in the head."
Many of the texts are too disturbing to repeat.
Civil rights attorney John Burris called the texts "horrendous" and "outrageous."
He said the texts reveal a larger problem in the department.
"It goes not only to the verbal abuse, but it’s also physical abuse and there are no restraints on these men," Burris said, referring to the officers. "They seem to have no inhibitions about doing so. That then means there's no direct supervision. Officers feel they can readily do this without any ramifications. These officers should be terminated."
Contra Costa County's Public Defender Ellen McDonnell called on cases involving the officers who sent those texts to be revisited.
"Once we’ve identified those cases – and any overlapping conflicts -- we will initiate a detailed review process for potential dismissal, resentencing, or the preservation of convictions," a statement from the DA stated.
Nearly a quarter of Antioch's police force is on paid leave because of the accusations.
"It’s hard when you’re in a community and you can’t feel safe among the officers that are supposed to be protecting you," Clexton Ward of Antioch said. "We’ve got to step up too and do better ourselves. Sometimes it takes us to police ourselves. We don’t always need them."
Antioch Police Chief Steven Ford who has only been in charge for a little more than a year told KTVU he is committed to rebuilding the department and its culture from the top.
"My sole focus is to move the organization in a direction that is community centered and rooted in constitutional policing plans and strategies," he said. "I am very intentional about a forthcoming top down organizational assessment that will cover all of our internal systems and structures to ensure we function as a forward-thinking, fair, and consistent organization. "
City council held a special meeting Tuesday evening to discuss police reforms and racial equity. Many of the protesters packed inside city hall in hopes of speaking out during public comment.
"It’s been decades and decades of issues that we finally need to bring to light," Williams said. "And the way to do that is use our voices that we have in our community."