Texting scandal: Did Antioch PD act as a police gang? Here's what experts say

ByAnser Hassan KGO logo
Thursday, April 20, 2023
Did Antioch PD act as a police gang? Experts weigh in
With all the attention focused on the Antioch Police Department texting scandal, some are now asking if the department acted as a police gang.

ANTIOCH, Calif. (KGO) -- With all the attention focused on the Antioch Police department texting scandal, some are now asking if the department acted as a police gang.

"If police officers want to be treated like professionals, they are going to need to act like professionals. It really is that simple," said Zahra Billoo, executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of CAIR, or Council on American-Islamic Relations.

CAIR is among the many civil rights groups across the Bay Area are raising concerns after documents revealed a series of racist, sexist and homophobic text messages sent by Antioch police officers and supervisors over period of almost two years.

RELATED: 40% of Antioch police force likely involved in alleged racist texting scandal, public defender says

Here are sample of some the text messages from the Contra Costa County District Attorney's office's reports.

Officer Brock Marcotte: "I'm on my way now, what're you guy up to?" (sic)

Officer Eric Rombough: "Violating civil rights."

In a text exchange with a Brentwood police officer about the use of the N-word, Antioch police officer Morteza Amiri replies, "It's commonly used around the pd tbh (police department to be honest). Even in group messages with supervisors and (internal affairs) Sgt's. Matter of fact it was just said today in our group thread with multiple supervisors on it."

"This isn't just Antioch Police Department and today. This is historical," Carmela Caramagno said.

VIDEO: Activist targeted in Antioch PD texting scandal threatens to sue: 'I feel very violated'

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

She is the attorney representing Terryon Pugh, who was named in one of the reports as being targeted by Antioch police. She believes given the number of officers involved, they could be considered a police gang under California law.

"Government code 10-29 and penal code section 13670, and it seems to me a lot of what we have meets the definition of a law enforcement gang," Caramagno said.

Renowned Bay Area civil rights attorney John Burris says, "I have no problem saying this is a police gang. Multiple gangs."

Burris says even though he would categorize the Antioch Police Department to have acted as a gang, it would be still be up to an outside agency to investigate the patterns and practices of the department to make that determination.

"They are (using) derogatory terms, homophobic terms. That's a group. Well, that becomes of like minds. And to the extent that it is unlawful, then you consider that to be a gang," Burris said.

VIDEO: 'Disgusting': Alleged Antioch PD racist texts addressed as tensions flare at city council meeting

At least two people had to be escorted out of the meeting after a back-and-forth with the Antioch mayor over the alleged racist and homophobic text messages of around two dozen police officers.

However, Greg Woods, professor of Justice Studies at San Jose State University disagrees.

"As enticing as this notion might be, this is not a gang," Woods said. "It is difficult to argue the Antioch Police Department has engaged in criminal behavior that would be similar to that of a gang."

Woods says a gang is loosely defined as a group of three or more, involved in criminal behavior. He points to other police gangs, like the Riders gang in Oakland, where police planted evidence and wrote up false reports.

"Here we don't have that. Here we have text messages illustrating racial animus and therefore we have at the very least, perhaps an interpretation of bias, bigotry, racism," Woods explained.

Woods says the Antioch Police Department acted more as a fraternity rather than a law enforcement gang. And that it would likely take a class action lawsuit to determine otherwise.

Now Streaming 24/7 Click Here

If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live