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

ByAnser Hassan KGO logo
Saturday, April 15, 2023
40% of APD force likely involved in texting scandal: Public defender
Contra Costa County public defender says 40% of Antioch police force are likely involved in the alleged racist texting scandal.

ANTIOCH, Calif. (KGO) -- After a 21-page redacted report was released on Thursday into the texting scandal at the Antioch Police Department, ABC7 News was able to get a hold of second 14-page report, which further reviews text messages related to a specific police investigation from 2021 to now.

"It is clear that the Antioch Police Department has treated that community like a war zone, and the community members as if they were hostiles," says Carmela Caramagno.

Caramagno is the attorney representing Terryon Pugh. The investigation into his arrest two years ago, allegedly related to an attempted shooting, is in part detailed in the 14-page report.

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.

In one exchange, from March 25, 2021, Officer Eric Rombough texted, "Sooo many black peolpe (sic)."

Officer Jonathan Adams: "Bro. They all look the same."

Officer Eric Rombough: "Tell me about it. I feel like I'm at the zoo. I hate these idiots."

"The 14-page report shows that my client, and one other individual, were not only compounded with overarching racial hatred, but they were specifically targeted in the course of the investigation," explains Caramagno.

Both reports were prepared by the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office.

"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. This is an ongoing state and federal criminal investigation which may lead to further disclosures. This report also documents potential dishonesty, perjury, abuse of authority, and the violation of individuals civil rights," the report says.

RELATED: Antioch mayor addresses officers' racist texts; calls for special meeting to examine APD culture

Six days after the above conversation, there was this exchange:

Officer Rombough: "We managed to set up a perimeter and he got his ass whooped in the back yard and I field goal kicked his head."

Another officer: "I thought that was a no no."

Officer Rombough: "No we can do that just no chokes. I tried to knock him unconscious. And he got muzzle thumped six times before he gave us his hands."

Later in the afternoon:

Officer Rombough: "Bro my foot hurts lol."

Officer Adams: "Did you kick the guy?"

Officer Rombough: "Yup like a f*****g field goal," and "Gotta stop kicking n****s in their head."

RELATED: Antioch mayor announces more officers placed on leave after investigation into police dept.

The report also documents officers taking pictures of Pugh while he was hospitalized.

"Just the violation of my clients and humanity and privacy by taking a picture of his naked backside while he lay in the hospital, to joke with your friends on your personal cell phones about the injuries you inflicted on him," says Caramagno.

She believes that given the number of officers involved, they could be considered a police gang under California law.

"Government Code 1029 and Penal Code section 13670 and it seems to me a lot of what we have meets the definition of a law enforcement gang," she says.

"There are statements about going out and finding cars of black people to tow. They are ridiculing injuries they have inflicted on individuals," says Ellen McDonnell, the Chief Public Defender in Contra Costa County.

She believes that now 40% of Antioch police department's 99 sworn officers were engaging in the text chains, up from the 20% estimate given early in the week by the city.

RELATED: Mayor wants audit of Antioch PD after judge releases officer names involved in alleged misconduct

"Approximately 40% of Antioch's police officers are engaging in these vile text chains. At least 45 officers are on the text chains of what's been disclosed thus far. Sixteen of them are in leadership roles such as detective or sergeant," says McDonnell. "This shows that it is deeply entrenched in the culture of the Antioch Police Department. And that there is supervisorial approval for this type of behavior and for these beliefs."

McDonnell wrote to Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton on Friday, requesting that she, "immediately dismiss all pending Public Defender cases involving APD, agree to release our incarcerated clients, and cease filing any APD related cases."

"There are statements about going out and finding cars of Black people to tow, of specifically targeting members of the community and taking their property," McDonnell tells ABC7 News. "There simply cannot be trust or confidence in the police work coming out of the Antioch Police Department knowing that officers are falsifying their police reports, that they are targeting and brutalizing black and brown members of the community."

Caramagno also raises concerns about Detective Robert Gerber, who is also named in the report. She says Detective Gerber is the "gang expert" for the Antioch PD, and who testified to add special enhancements in cases, which can lead to life in prison without possibility of parole.

"That enhancement is in large part founded on Officer Gerber's testimony and investigation. So, the impact is tremendous. And it infects every aspect of the charges against my client," explains Caramagno.

Lawyers for the police department did not return request for comment.

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