Antioch Police Department’s text message scandal: here's what to know
An FBI and Contra Costa County District Attorney's investigation into a "broad range of offenses" involving "crimes of moral turpitude" by East Bay police crystallized into a scandal involving police officers from the Antioch and Pittsburg police departments conspiring to obtain falsified college degrees, illegal drug sales and a massive racist text messaging calamity involving nearly four dozen Antioch police officers.
The simmering controversy reached a boil with two bombshell reports released by the Contra Costa County District Attorney's office that show rampant racist, sexist and other derogatory comments sent by Antioch police, as well as officers bragging about injuring suspects during violent confrontations.
The messages suggest police are complicit in potential abuses of authority, civil rights violations, perjury, and other incidents that "may have violated the Racial Justice Act" – a new state law that allows people charged or convicted of crimes to challenge the results of the case if racial bias was involved – the report states.
"This report documents some of the derogatory, homophobic and sexually explicit language and photographs shared by members of the Antioch Police Department that demonstrates their racial bias and animus towards African Americans and other people of color in the community," the report states.
- Antioch mayor wants investigation into police department after racist texts emerge
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The scandal has the potential to be extremely costly for the East Bay city of 114,000 people. The DA vowed to review criminal cases that involved the work of the embattled officers.
After nearly a year's worth of reporting, KTVU has broken down the investigation to highlight how it started, what it involves and what it may mean for the city of Antioch.
Antioch Chief of Police Steven A. Ford condemned the "abhorrent content" found in the text messages. | Courtesy of The City of Antioch
When did the investigation start?
The joint investigation conducted by the FBI and the Contra Costa County DA's office started in early 2022. At the time, prosecutors said they were conducting an investigation into Antioch and Pittsburg police departments for a "broad range of offenses."
The Contra Costa County DA’s office said the investigation into the officers’ alleged misconduct involved "crimes of moral turpitude."
SEE ALSO: 1 Antioch police officer resigns in wake of FBI investigation
The investigation into the Pittsburg Police Department involves three officers who were placed on paid leave pending the results of the investigation. The department said it received a tip in September 2021 that some of its officers were involved in illegal activity. The Pittsburg Police Department did not respond to an inquiry about the officers' current status.
At least one officer has been criminally charged in connection to the probe. Armando Montalvo, a former Pittsburg police officer, was charged with four counts of possession and sales of illegal assault weapons in relation to the original investigation on Nov. 10, 2022.
Dozens of Antioch cops are ensnared
It's tough to say exactly how much of Antioch's police department is tangled up in the investigation, but there are currently 38 APD officers on leave, according to Police Chief Steve Ford.
APD presently has 99 sworn officers and 45 of them are named in the DA's report for sending or receiving offensive texts. The president of the city's police union, Rick Hoffman, is one of the officers on the DA's list. Hoffman did not respond to a request for comment.
Eight officers were placed on leave during the initial investigation and in September 2022 a federal grand jury convened to consider indictments for civil rights violations, uses of force and other charges. Meanwhile, a seemingly parallel investigation focusing on the racist text messaging scandal includes an additional eight Antioch police officers being placed on leave.
KTVU has been unable to determine the reasons why the other 22 officers are currently on leave.
N-word "commonly used" by police
The joint report, first released last Thursday, includes incidents of Antioch police officers using language that was called "racially abhorrent" by Ford, the police chief.
"I condemn – in the strongest possible terms – the racially abhorrent content and incomprehensible behavior attributed to members of the Antioch Police Department," wrote Ford, who became chief in November 2022. Much of the released text messages occurred under former police chief Tammany Brooks, who left APD in October 2021 for a position in Boise, Idaho.
Contained within the DA's report were photos of gorillas in reference to Black people, sexist comments and homophobic and racist slurs, such as the n-word.
In one example, Officer Eric Rombough sent a photo of a "large African American male, with his penis exposed, sitting on the neck of George Floyd," to an unnamed citizen, the report states.
Officer Eric Rombough pictured in 2017 after he was sworn into the Antioch Police Department. (Facebook/Antioch Police Department)
Rombough went on to refer Black residents as "2s," a reference to feces, and called Black women "water buffalo."
In late 2020, APD officer Amiri texted an officer from a neighboring police department bragging that the n-word is "commonly used around" the Antioch Police Department. "Even in group messages with supervisors and IA [Sergeants] matter of fact it was said just today in our group thread with multiple supervisors in it," Amiri texted on Dec. 27, 2020.
Texts jeopardize criminal cases
Besides the offensive language, the texts reveal officers joking about possible rights violations. If the statements are true, they could jeopardize both past and present criminal cases. The Contra Costa County DA's office has already dropped 40 cases tainted by the officers involved and hinted that there may be many more to come.
In one example from July 2, 2020, APD officer Andrea Rodriguez texted that she was unsure if she could conduct a drug recognition evaluation because her suspect was "knocked out now," the report states.
"No we’ll just say he refused to comply and take the blood," Officer Calvin Prieto responded. "Sh*t aint going anywhere. If anything he’ll get hit for the 2800.4," code for evading the police, the report states.
Another officer seemed to rejoice in the fact that there isn't video surveillance of all their activities which would capture their interactions with suspects.
"Since we don’t have video I sometimes just say people gave me a full confession when they didn’t. [Gets] filed easier," Officer Amiri texted Brentwood Police Officer Lindzie Laughridge on April 29, 2020.
Antioch Police Officer Morteza Amiri | Photo courtesy of Antioch Police Department
The county's public defender has already called for cases to be dismissed that involve officers named in the report. The public defender's office along with the DA and the Contra Costa Conflict program said they will be teaming up to investigate cases involving APD officers caught up in the scandal.
"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," District Attorney Diana Becton's office announced. "The DA’s Office is working to ensure that public safety and serving the interest of justice are priorities in this process."
Antioch may never be the same
The scandal has created political and cultural turmoil in Antioch.
Mayor Lamar Thorpe said he has had his fence burned down on his property and he was struck by a resident. He's asked Ford to patrol outside his home during City Council meetings to ensure the safety of his daughter.
The sheer number of police officers on leave due to the scandals would amount to an "excessive amount of money" needed to hire law enforcement officers from other agencies to fill in, for potential litigation, and outside independent investigations into the scandals, Thorpe said in a statement.
"We're not going to pretend that we have a few issues with a few bad apples," Thorpe said. "It is clear we have cultural and systemic problems that persist to this very day."
Thorpe has called for legislation to transfer the authority to supervise the chief of police from the city manager to City Council. This transfer of power would also allow City Council to remove the chief and appoint a new one and allow for a more direct relationship between the police chief and the elected City Council members.
SEE ALSO: Antioch leaders to review current system of overseeing police department
The racist text messaging scandal hit a boiling point for Thorpe during a City Council meeting last Tuesday when he shouted at, and seemingly challenged to fight, a speaker during a public comment session who was defending the police and accusing the mayor of misconduct.
"You want to go outside? Let’s go!" Thorpe yelled at the speaker. "I am sick and tired of being attacked by these people in this community apologizing for the racism that is going on in this community."
After the DA's first report was released, Thorpe told KTVU he did not read it because it was too triggering.
"I didn’t read anything, I just saw the images. And frankly, that was enough because it’s just very angering to be compared to animals," Thorpe said.
SEE ALSO: 'You want to go? Let's go!' Antioch mayor shouts during meeting on police racist texting scandal
Thorpe himself has been mentioned in a disparaging manner by APD police. Officer John Ramirez sent a text in June 2020 offering a reward if another officer shot Thorpe with a ".40mm less-lethal launcher," the report found.
"I’ll buy someone a prime rib dinner at House of [prime] rib to 40 that [redacted] (Thorpe) during the protest today," Ramirez wrote.
Read the full reports issued by the FBI and the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office below.
Freddy Brewster is a reporter for KTVU. Email Freddy at email@example.com or call him at 513-379-7522. Follow him on Twitter @freddy_brewster