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Antioch's Racist Police Text Message Scandal Could Mean Dropped Charges in Some Cases

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A police car with sirens on is in the background while two police officers stand around the vehicle.
Unidentified Antioch police officers stand near a police vehicle in March 2023. (Antioch Police Department/Facebook)

Editor’s note: This story contains racist language.

Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge David Goldstein will decide by May 19 whether to dismiss gang enhancement charges against four Black men arrested in connection with a shooting in Antioch.

Attorneys for the men had already filed motions to dismiss the charges on the grounds of the California Racial Justice Act, which prohibits racism in criminal prosecutions and sentencing. The argument was bolstered this week by a spiraling racist text message scandal within the Antioch Police Department. Some of the text messages contain references to the four men.

The racist texts surfaced during an ongoing investigation by the FBI and Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton into misconduct by police officers in Antioch and Pittsburg, including officers misusing police dogs, falsifying education records to obtain pay bumps and eliciting false confessions. The district attorney’s report (PDF), which contains racist, misogynistic and violent language and imagery, was obtained by KQED.

Eleven members of the Antioch Police Department are on leave after the investigation. At least 14 officers — sergeants, detectives and supervisors — allegedly sent and received racist memes and text messages for four years, according to the report.

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The revelation arrives on top of numerous racist text scandals that have rocked police departments and communities across the Bay Area.

“Our clients are more seriously charged than similarly situated defendants of other races, non-Black defendants,” said Evan Kuluk, deputy public defender with the Alternate Defender Office for Contra Costa County.

The case surrounds four alleged members of an East Oakland-based gang who were charged in August 2021 with conspiracy to murder rival gang members and attempted murder in connection with a March 2021 homicide in Antioch.

Attorneys have been in litigation for the last six months over alleged racial disparities in gang charges in homicide cases, Kuluk said. The East Bay Times first reported on the horrific text messages.

About 20% of APD’s officers are currently suspended, and the text messages are likely to compromise many more Contra Costa criminal cases.

In the texts, officers bragged about falsifying confessions and assaulting Black residents, and rampantly used racist stereotypes about the communities they were sworn to protect.

In April 2020, Sgt. Josh Evans texted officer Morteza Amiri, “I’ll bury that n—r in my fields.” The report notes that Amiri laughed at the above comment, and then Evans responded, “And yes… it was a hard R on purpose.”

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Amiri replied, “haha there’s no accidents with you on that.”

“Why would it take a legislative enactment to get 20 officers to understand that it’s their job to intercede when their fellow officers are abusing, assaulting members of their community, using racial epithets,” said Carmela Caramagno, an attorney who represents one of the defendants.

The messages include direct threats against Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe, who is Black and Latino. In 2020, John Ramirez sent a text to fellow APD officers saying he would “buy someone a prime rib dinner” if they shot at Thorpe with a rubber-bullet 40 mm launcher at a protest.

“You can’t say those things unless there’s an institution or a culture that says that’s OK. And so we have to fix that,” Thorpe said in response to the messages.

On Saturday, Thorpe called for an audit of internal affairs complaints. The mayor, who said that the audit should include all complaints made against police officers over the last six to eight years, also requested a study of demographic data on arrests and use of force.

The Antioch Police Department did not return a request for comment.

Caramagno said she plans to file a motion to dismiss all the charges against her client.

“If you look at the text messages, you’ve got at least 20 officers, whether they’re sending texts or receiving texts,” she said. “So far, I’m not aware of a single officer coming forward to call out this behavior, stop the behavior or intercede on the defendant’s behalf. If that’s not egregious governmental conduct, I don’t know what it is.”

KQED reporters Tara Siler and Sara Hossaini contributed to this report.

Editor’s note, April 14:

KQED published the district attorney’s investigative report on April 12 (PDF) in the interest of providing our audiences with unvarnished access to the content of the racist, misogynistic and violent text messages allegedly sent by members of the Antioch Police Department. KQED has redacted the version of the report we obtained to exclude information also withheld in court records.

The Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office released a heavily censored version of the report on April 13. That version can be viewed here (PDF).

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