Antioch, Pittsburg cops indicted by federal grand jury on variety of charges

The U.S. Attorney's Office in San Francisco and the FBI held a joint news conference Thursday afternoon, where they announced the arrest of nine current or former Antioch and Pittsburg police officers for a variety of criminal allegations.

The charges, according to the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office, are wide-ranging and include; conspiracy to violate civil rights, wire fraud, distribution of steroids, numerous civil rights violations, destruction, alteration and falsification of records and federal investigations and obstruction of justice. 

Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe confirmed that multiple officers were arrested by the FBI on Thursday morning in a civil rights probe that started in early 2022.

"Today is a dark day in our city's history, as people trusted to uphold the law, allegedly breached that trust and were arrested by the FBI," Thorpe said in a statement. "As our city absorbs this tragic news, we must come together as one. Today's actions are the beginning of the end of a long and arduous process."

The FBI and Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office have both investigated the departments since early 2022. The state attorney general's office opened its own probe earlier this year.


Outgoing Antioch police chief won't testify in trial over racist text scandal

The courtroom was packed Friday as officers from the Antioch Police Department prepared to testify about racist text messages uncovered during an ongoing investigation.

Among the allegations are chains of text messages sent between as many as 45 Antioch officers, using racial slurs and describing violence against suspects, and going as far as threatening Thorpe, who is African American. The N-word was used at least a dozen times, as were terms describing African Americans as "gorillas."

The texts also described recently retired Police Chief Steven Ford, who is African American, in racially derogatory terms. They also contained homophobic slurs and suggested violence against unhoused people.

As many as 45 of Antioch's approximately 100 officers were placed on leave because of the texts.

In a statement late Thursday afternoon, acting Antioch Police Chief Joe Vigil said the arrests are "disheartening and undermines the incredible work our staff does on a daily basis. Any police officer who breaks public trust must be held accountable, especially because our effectiveness relies heavily on confidence and support from our community."

U.S. Attorney Ismail Ramsey described the four separate indictments. 

Six defendants were charged in what Ramsey called the "college-degree benefits fraud indictment." Ramsey said officers claimed they had earned college credits towards degrees but had actually hired people to attend classes and take exams in their place. Ramsey said the police departments permitted reimbursement for tuition and salary increases to officers who earned college degrees. 

"These defendants conspired to defraud their police departments and to reap the financial benefits of earning college degrees without putting in the work or obtaining the knowledge that comes from real educational achievement," Ramsey said. 

The second indictment involves two defendants who conspired to distribute anabolic steroids. One of the two defendants is accused of destroying evidence of the illegal conspiracy, Ramsey said. 

The third indictment is referred to as the "obstruction indictment" in which an officer is accused of destroying and falsifying records to obstruct federal investigations. Ramsey said the officer was assigned to monitor a wire tap, but used his own personal phone to call the target of the wire tap and then prevented that call from being recorded during the wire tap. The defendant is also charged with a civil rights violation in which he allegedly confiscated a citizen's phone and damaged it to prevent the retrieval of relevant evidence. 

The fourth indictment is called the "depravation of rights indictment." The 29-page indictment details civil rights violations by three officers with the Antioch Police Department. The officers allegedly improperly deployed a K9 as well as weapons in order to harm individuals in and around Antioch. "The defendants boasted about their illegal uses of force in text messages between one another," Ramsey said. The officers are alleged to have shared photos of their victims' injuries. "And even collected spent ammunition from their attacks on the people of Antioch," Ramesy said. 

In a scathing critique, Ramsey said these collective indictments describe the actions of officers who acted as if they were above the law. "The officers had no interest in de-escalation or other proper law-enforcement tactics to avoid violence," Ramsey said. He added that they tried to escape scrutiny by not filing truthful reports and by refusing to wear their body-worn cameras in some instances.  

But Michael Rains, an attorney representing Antioch K-9 Officer Mortez Amiri, who is accused of sharing photos of dog-bite victims and bragging about using force in texts, said the canine deployments were previously deemed "very legitimate."

"I’m skeptical about those charges," Rains said. "I think those charges seem to be, from my quick review of the indictment, based upon some of the text messages that went on, include a great deal of bravado that I see in their texting.  I think they're trying to catapult the bravado from these guys."

This case has been described as a high priority for the FBI's San Francisco field office for several months. 

Some of the defendants named in the texts, including those convicted and accused of murder, have already had their cases overturned in court or are challenging their arrests as racially motivated and violations of the California Racial Justice Act.

Civil rights attorneys John Burris and Ben Nisenbaum have filed two lawsuits so far involving 13 plaintiffs accusing Antioch police of civil rights violations, among other allegations. The lawyers have said they've interviewed another "140 people who claim they also have been subject of multiple constitutional violations by Antioch police officers for years," they said in a statement earlier this month.

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Thorpe said Thursday the arrests are demonstrative of issues that have plagued the Antioch Police Department for decades.

"Seeking to reform the Antioch Police Department is not anti-police, it is pro our residents, and pro officers that have served and continue to serve with honor," Thorpe said. 

KTVU's Andre Torrez contributed to this report.