SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The city of Antioch, California and members of its scandalized police force have been hit with a federal lawsuit for civil rights violations stemming from a barrage of racist text messages that have shocked the community.
John Burris, an Oakland-based civil rights attorney known for his work exposing police brutality, filed the complaint in federal court Wednesday on behalf of four individuals who say they were targeted by police officers who sent text messages using slurs to describe Black people and boasting about fabricating evidence and beating on suspects. A fifth plaintiff is suing on behalf of his father, who was shot and killed by two of the officers involved in the text scandal.
“This fact pattern is the most pervasive racial hatred case I’ve ever been involved in,” said Burris at a news conference Thursday outside the Antioch Police Department, during which he listed the racial slurs and derogatory terms used by officers. “This conduct itself was so horrible that it was more than just locker room talk, it was a state of mind.”
Burris said all the officers involved in the scandal should be fired, the remainder reassessed and a federal overseer brought in to ensure the department implements reforms. It’s an area Burris is familiar with — in 2000, he and another attorney brought a class-action lawsuit that resulted in reforms and federal oversight of the Oakland Police Department.
The text messages, which came out of an ongoing investigation by the FBI and the Contra Costa District Attorney’s office, have rocked residents of the racially diverse city some 45 miles east (72 kilometers) of San Francisco. They also prompted the county’s district attorney to undertake a review of criminal cases involving the department.
The texts include frequent use of the terms “monkey” and “gorilla,” and boast about beating up suspects and targeting Black people for traffic stops. In April 2020, one Antioch officer texted an officer at another police department: “Since we don’t have video I sometimes just say people gave me a full confession when they didn’t, get filed easier.”
The messages are largely from 2020 and 2021 and were sent by 17 named officers of the 100-person Antioch police force, including the president of the Antioch police union. The county public defender has said that nearly half of the department was included in the text chains, and nobody said anything.
Several Antioch residents spoke at the press conference, sharing their harrowing encounters with the police department.
Plaintiff Adam Carpenter, who is Black, said he was arrested in November 2020 by four of the officers in question. Before the arrest, the officers pulled him over multiple times and took his money and cell phones without documenting any of it, he said.
Carpenter, 33, said he was in custody for nearly a year and was released in April 2022. The state dropped charges against him last week, he said.
“I have not been able to get a job or obtain any type of employment,” he said. “Basically, the system is set for us to fail.”
Another plaintiff, Trent Allen, is one of four young men in their 20s who are all in jail facing charges of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. In the released texts, an Antioch officer brags that he “field goal kicked” Allen’s head and says his foot hurts because Allen’s head was like a bowling ball.
“I am devastated right now with these Antioch police officers that targeted my son, that text each other comments about my son’s head was a bowling ball, that they kicked the field goal, that they was going to shoot him,” said Shirelle Cobbs, Allen’s mother. “They need to be prosecuted because this is unacceptable.”
The lawsuit names as defendants the city, three previous and current police chiefs, one sergeant and five police officers. Police Chief Steven Ford, who has led the department since April 2022, did not respond to emails and a phone call seeking comment.
Tammany Brooks, who was Antioch police chief from May 2017 through October 2021, also did not respond to an emailed request for comment sent to the Boise Police Department, where he is deputy chief.
The city attorney’s office did not respond to phone and email requests for comment.
The officers named in the investigation have not been charged with crimes. There is no timeline for its completion.