How Racial Justice Act violations from Antioch PD texting scandal will affect murder case

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Wednesday, February 7, 2024
How Antioch PD Racial Justice Act violations will affect murder case
A judge has announced his remedies related to California Racial Justice Act violations in a murder case that is linked to the Antioch police racist texting scandal and could set legal precedence.

ANTIOCH, Calif. (KGO) -- After months of anticipation, Contra Costa Superior Court Judge David Goldstein announced his remedies related to California Racial Justice Act violations in a murder case that is linked to the Antioch Police Department texting scandal. The case could set legal precedence.

"It sends a clear message that the state should never be able to seek life without the possibility of parole in a California Racial Justice Act violation. I think the court has made that loud and clear," says attorney Carmela Caramagno.

Caramagno represents Terryonn Pugh. He is one of four defendants facing murder charges in a possible gang-related shooting from 2021. The others are Trent Allen, Keyshawn McGee and Eric Windom.

RELATED: Judge says Antioch police officers don't have to testify in Racial Justice Act hearing

In one of the remedies, Judge Goldstein struck all special circumstances. Special circumstances can lead to a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

"It would just be a fundamental violation of all of our senses of equality and due process to subject somebody to life in prison without the possibility of parole where there has been California Racial Justice Act violation," says Caramagno.

Earlier in the case, the prosecution acknowledged that the racist texting scandal proved that Antioch police officers violated the Racial Justice Act, a new state law that allows for those charged with a crime to challenge it on the basis of racial bias. It was up to Judge Goldstein to decide on legal remedies to address it. He already dropped the gang enhancements last year.

RELATED: Contra Costa Co. public defender requests pending cases involving Antioch PD to be dropped

Caramagno says the judge will also allow the defendants to impeach the officers, which means to question the credibility of their testimony or the evidence, based on the racist texts.

"That is crucial because what it acknowledges is that the investigation itself has been compromised. And, that the jury has the right to consider the fact that the investigation is so compromised, that it can't be trusted," explains Caramagno.

Greg Woods is a professor in the Department of Justice Studies at San Jose State University. He says striking of special circumstances under the Racial Justice Act is historic. But he also points out that the judge did not reduce the actual charges, as the defense was hoping.

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

A new 128-page Contra Costa County District Attorney's report reveals Antioch officers referred to Police Chief Steven Ford as a "gorilla."

"It does not eliminate the substance of the very severe crimes that are issued up to, and including, those violent crimes, including murder," says Woods.

The Contra Costa County District Attorney's office declined an interview request. The lawyer representing some of the officers did not return a request for comment.

The trial is set for March 4.

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