Antioch police chief announces retirement ahead of subpoena to testify in texting scandal case

ByAnser Hassan, Lena Howland KGO logo
Thursday, July 20, 2023
Antioch police chief announces retirement amid texting scandal
Antioch Police Chief Steven Ford announced Wednesday that he will be retiring from the department next month.

ANTIOCH, Calif. (KGO) -- There are new developments Wednesday in the Antioch police texting scandal. ABC7 News reporter Anser Hassan has learned Antioch Police Chief Steven Ford is among the officers subpoenaed to testify in the police department's texting scandal case on Friday.

And late Wednesday evening, Chief Ford announced he will be retiring from the Antioch Police Department next month.

His last day will be August 11.

Chief Ford released a statement writing:

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ABC7 News spoke with Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe after Ford's announcement.

I can't speak to why he's leaving, I'll talk to him but what I can tell you is that the racist text messaging scandal just brings to light what we're trying to uproot here and the challenges that this city has faced for a long long time that hasn't wanted to deal with it face to face and so, we're dealing with it. It causes turbulence," Thorpe said.

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

Mayor Thorpe asked for the community's patience as they navigate these challenges, but said the city will continue to deliver on the basic services promised.

"We are moving forward because we're going to have a recruitment, a national search for a city manager, we're bringing on a consultant firm for the recruitment of these executive level positions, we'll obviously add the chief of police position on that as well so we've been preparing for any changes as they happen," Thorpe said.

Antioch city Councilmember Mike Barbanica said the news caught him by surprise.

"I have worked with chief ford since he came from the city of Antioch, he's a good chief and now, it's time for us to start the process to bring in a new chief that's going to come in and deal with the issues that are occurring within the department and make Antioch a safer place," Barbanica said.

No interim chief has been named. Barbanica says while this unfolds, city council will be taking the matter of public safety very seriously with staffing levels on the force, top of mind.

"I have requested that the police department come in and give a report on staffing levels, to ensure public safety and transparency, communication to the public to allow the public to understand what we learn and what our staffing levels are for all of the divisions in the department," he said.

EXCLUSIVE: Antioch police chief calls texting scandal 'hate speech;' open to federal oversight

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

Fifteen officers were subpoenaed to testify in court this Friday. But not all of them may be coming.

"We don't want to put light on somebody that may have injuries, but we do believe this is kind of a convenient time for this to happen," says Frank Sterling.

Sterling is 50-year resident of the city and community activist with the group Reimagine Antioch. He sued the Antioch police department several years ago for excessive use of force, and won.

"I'm curious as to how that system works, that they could suddenly have a doctor's note two or three days before they have to testify," says Sterling.

Defense attorney Carmela Caramango filed a Racial Justice Act motion for her client Terryonn Pugh. Pugh was targeted by Antioch police officers in their text messages.

California's new Racial Justice Act was passed in 2020. It allows legal challenges to charges, convictions and sentencing that may be influenced by systemic bias.

RELATED: Alleged Antioch PD racist texts addressed as tensions flare at city council meeting

The hearing could result in criminal charges being dropped for Pugh and three others accused of committing a series of gang-related shootings.

The evidentiary hearing on that motion is set for Friday, for which the officers were subpoenaed.

In May, a judge found proof of racial bias and racism in the charging decisions by the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office. Caramango says black people were up to 40 percent more likely to be charged with special enhancements compared to others.

"And that's significant. When you charge a somebody with a special circumstance, you are asking the court to impose a mandatory of life without any possibility of parole. Ever," Caramango told ABC7 News in May.

VIDEO: 15 Antioch officers subpoenaed may not testify in texting scandal case

Fifteen Antioch police officers involved in the texting scandal were subpoenaed to testify in court this Friday. But not all of them may be coming.

On Monday, ABC7 News learned that some of the officers were excused from appearing. The response to each of the five officers' subpoena states: "The officer is off work due to an industrial injury and has not been medically cleared by his/her physician to attend court."

Each document was signed off by Antioch Police Chief Steven Ford.

"The medical excuse that I am reading about, that is being alleged, is not enough," says Monica Wilson, Antioch City Council Member presenting District 4. "I think it is kind of funny, or suspect, that this is happening right before the court date. For me, unless it is a true medical emergency, they should be able to go."

Wilson says she was hoping that the investigation would allow some transparency into the department. Especially since this is the first time any of the officers would appear in court.

"We see defendants being wheeled in wheelchairs, and brought in. And now, in this day and age of technology, to even Zoom in. So, I do not understand what the issue is with them. Why they cannot be there," explains Wilson.

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

In email to ABC7 News, Lieutenant Michael Mellone writes: "Although I cannot comment on specific individuals due to medical privacy reasons and personnel rules, we are not allowed to order an employee to perform any functions that a physician has said they are not able to do. To do so would subject the City to unnecessary and potentially costly liability. We will continue to facilitate subpoena service for our employees that do not have any restrictions that would preclude them from appearing in court."

Rick Callender, President of the California and Hawaii Chapter of the NAACP, says the officers involved in the texting scandal should be federally prosecuted.

"The liability that the city should be worried about is the liability of these officer have given to them, from their racist actions of treatment of people like slaves. That is the real liability they should be worried about," says Callender.

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