10 Pittsburg, Antioch police officers charged in civil rights, corruption probe: Authorities

Friday, August 18, 2023
10 Bay Area officers charged in FBI corruption probe: Officials
Federal authorities have charged 10 current and former Antioch and Pittsburg police officers in a corruption investigation.

ANTIOCH, Calif. (KGO) -- Nine current or former Antioch and Pittsburg police officers and one community service officer were charged Thursday in a federal corruption investigation that found evidence they committed civil rights violations and fraud in an effort to get a pay raise and lied on reports to cover up use of excessive force, U.S. authorities said.

Ismail J. Ramsey, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, filed four indictments that outlined charges including wire fraud, deprivation of rights under color of law, conspiracy against rights, and conspiracy to distribute anabolic steroids. Nine police officers and one community service officer are named in the charges, though only two are charged in multiple indictments.

Only three of the officers remain employed by the departments and were not on active duty, officials said.

RELATED: Civil rights investigation launched into Antioch PD for alleged racist texts, excessive force

Arrest warrants were served Thursday in California, Texas and Hawaii, said Robert Tripp, special agent in charge of the FBI's San Francisco Field Office. One has not yet been arrested, officials said.

Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe confirmed that multiple officers were arrested by the FBI on Thursday morning.

"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.

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Antioch Police Chief Steven Ford responds to texting scandal, saying "without question this is hate speech."

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."

In another alleged text, an officer writes:

"lol putting a pistol in someone's mouth and telling them to stop stealing isn't illegal... it's an act of public service to prevent further victims of crimes."

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.

Residents call for 'real accountability' after grand jury indictment

Antioch and Pittsburg community activists say for decades they have been raising concerns around policing in their respective police departments.

Antioch and Pittsburg community activists say for decades they have been raising concerns around policing in their respective police departments. Now that the two-year FBI investigation involving current and former officers at both departments comes to an end, many are calling for real accountability.

"Today, finally, we believe that is going to be some accountability. We are only hoping for the best in these situations," says Devan Williams, a community organizer involved with the groups ACCE and Reimagine Antioch.

Williams says knowing that the 10 officers involved in the FBI investigation into the Antioch and Pittsburg police departments will now likely face trial means that the community can start to move forward. Though, he remains a bit skeptical.

"If you look at history, it hasn't always played out in the favor of the public. A lot of crimes committed by police officers aren't seen as crimes in the eyes of the law sometimes," says Williams. "We just want to feel safe. And I think that that's a good start, by moving forward, that Antioch highlights what could possibly be going on in the rest of the country."

Thursday morning, the FBI raided the homes of the officers after a federal grand jury in San Francisco handed down at four indictments covering a wide range of offenses, including conspiracy to violate civil rights, destruction of records and obstruction of justice.

RELATED: New report reveals Antioch officers referred to police chief as 'gorilla' in text messages

The investigation also exposed the massive racist text messaging scandal at the Antioch Police Department.

"The arresting officers felt it was necessary to use a flash-bang, and call that officer out, presumably from his house. That means that they had a sense that there was real danger in arresting him," says civil rights attorney Ben Nisenbaum.

He represents clients who filed federal lawsuits against the Antioch Police Department that arose out of the racist texting scandal. He says it's about time that charges are finally being brought forth.

"I don't see the feds making a splash this big unless they had something big to prosecute," say Nisenbaum. "To me, the wire fraud charges are very interesting. That means they are transactions that happened. And those are provable."

Shagoofa Khan is a long-time community organizer. She has had run-ins with Officers Morteza Amiri and Eric Rombough, two of the officers named in the FBI investigation. She was also directly targeted in the texting scandal. She is hoping for real accountability.

"I believe once changes are made, then the community can start healing and we can start building a police department that the city of Antioch desperately needs," says Khan.

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A woman targeted in the Antioch police texting scandal threatens to file a lawsuit against the department.

"I think today should give us some hope that the people who are supposed to uphold the law, that when they break the law, they don't just get to skate free," says Antioch Vice Mayor Tamisha Torres-Walker.

Torres-Walker says the community should be encouraged that their efforts to fight for change weren't ignored.

"Today is a representation to those who have been fighting for reform and ignored by so many leaders for decades. That their fight and voices didn't go unheard," says Torres-Walker. "Take today as a day to reflect on how we moved the city forward. And reimagine public safety. And invest in communities that haven't been in a long time."

Police departments' response

The Antioch Police Department's acting Chief Joe Vigil released the following statement:

"Today's announcement reporting the arrest of current and former APD officers is 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. I would like to thank the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Contra Costa District Attorney's Office, California Department of Justice, and United States Attorney's Office for their diligence in this investigation. From the beginning of this investigation, our administration has been fully cooperating with these agencies, and will continue to do so. No individual - including a police officer - is above the law."

The Pittsburg Police Department shared this statement:

"In September 2021, the Pittsburg Police Department became aware of allegations of illegal activity by an employee. Pittsburg PD immediately contacted the District Attorney's Office and asked it to conduct a criminal investigation. That investigation, which the FBI joined, led to a Grand Jury indictment and the arrest of two former Pittsburg employees and several current and former officers from the Antioch Police Department. Consistent with our previous statements, we cannot expand on the details of this allegation as there is an ongoing investigation and, now, a criminal proceeding. The Pittsburg Police Department will continue cooperating with investigators from the FBI and Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office."

The Associated Press and Bay City News contributed to this report.

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