'We're Moving in': California Attorney General Launches Investigation Into Antioch Police Department After Racist Texting Scandal

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Two Black men and one woman hold signs at a protest calling for police accountability.
Dozens of community members, families of police violence and activists joined a rally outside of the Antioch Police Department on April 18, 2023, to protest the racist and homophobic text messages exchanged among the department. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

California Attorney General Rob Bonta on Wednesday announced his office is launching a civil rights investigation into the Antioch Police Department, following recent revelations that a significant number of its officers exchanged racist and homophobic text messages and allegedly engaged in other forms of misconduct, including excessive use of force.

The probe aims to determine whether the department has engaged in a pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing, Bonta said at a press briefing in Oakland.

“We’re getting involved. We’re moving in,” Bonta said. “Our investigation is a civil investigation that will look at patterns and practices of conduct within the Antioch Police Department and identify if laws are being broken, rights are being violated, and get them on corrective action if so,” said Bonta. “The people of Antioch deserve safety and their civil rights to be protected and defended. That is not a lot to ask. From what we have seen so far, it does not appear that that’s happening.”

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The most recent scandal involves 17 officers who sent the inappropriate text messages and other officers who received them — comprising a significant percentage of a department with only about 100 officers.

Bonta said his office has had its eye on Antioch police for some time — for concerns including the inappropriate use of force and of canines.

“We’ve seen data that shows spikes in excessive force in the Antioch Police Department more than other local police departments nearby and in the region,” Bonta said. “We’ve seen that excessive force have a disparate impact on those communities of color, including Black community members.”

The investigation follows years of complaints from scores of Antioch residents of color over harmful and potentially illegal policing practices, and comes amid ongoing FBI and Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office investigations into alleged misconduct within the department.

But Bonta said the recent texting scandal accelerated the launch of his office’s investigation.

“Those texts are hard to read. They are racist. They are homophobic. They are misogynist. And they aren’t just comments unrelated to official duties. They are directly related to official duties, including the use of force,” Bonta said, noting that he had an “emotional, visceral, guttural reaction” when reading them.

“I think nearly 20% of the police department is involved in sending texts,” he added. “Nearly half of the police department is involved in receiving those texts.”

This story includes reporting from KQED’s Spencer Whitney and Bay City News.