Audit of California police department involved in investigation into racist texts

A San Francisco Bay Area city council is undertaking an audit of its troubled police department, the latest development in a year-long federal investigation probe.

ANTIOCH (Calif.) — The city council of a San Francisco Bay Area municipality is auditing its troubled Police Department . This is the latest in a federal investigation that has been ongoing for a year and has blown up with the revelation of racist text messages sent by Antioch Police Department.

Residents were angry as they crowded City Hall Tuesday night, when the Antioch City Council unanimously voted to approve audits of the department’s internal affairs unit and its hiring and promotion practices. They also approved audits on the department’s culture. Officials named 17 officers, including the president, of the Antioch Police Union, who sent texts, but Contra Costa County’s public defender stated that almost half of the department’s 100 officers were included in the text chain.

Ellen McDonnell, a defense attorney, has asked District Attorney Diana Becton for the dismissal of all cases that involve the Antioch Police and Public Defender’s Office. Becton has said that she is reviewing all cases to determine if they should be dismissed or resentenced. Uncertain is the number of cases at stake.

McDonnell wrote in an email on Wednesday that the public “cannot have confidence or trust in any criminal prosecutions involving Antioch Police Department.” “Nobody should be charged with any crime based solely on a report from a police force so rife with corruption.”

The heavily redacted incendiary texts contain racist, homophobic, and sexually explicit derogatory language. Officers boast about fabricating evidence and beating suspects. They call women water buffalos, post gorilla photos, use racial insults and joke about the 2020 police killing of George Floyd.

Two officers in September 2020 agreed via text to issue a large amount of traffic tickets by targeting a certain group within a particular area. A male officer called Black people a racist term and told authorities to make them “eat —.”” A female officer replied, “Yes, that will be easy.” It will be fun lol. Let’s get started with the numbers.

Originally a predominantly white city, the 115,000-person population of this city located about 45 miles (72 km) east of San Francisco has become more diverse in the past 30 years.

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Mayor Lamar Thorpe, one of three Black progressive council members who are committed to protecting tenant’s rights and holding the police accountable, is a member of this five-person council. The city apologized in 2021 for its treatment towards early Chinese immigrants.

In an interview on Wednesday, he explained that “what you are seeing is a process of maturation. It’s like watching teenage kids develop pimples.” “The institutions took a long time before they caught up to where the public and voters were.”

The text messages were released as part of a joint investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office in March 2022 into a wide range of crimes, including what prosecutors referred to as crimes of “moral turpitude” committed by Antioch and Pittsburg Police Department officers.

After a judge ordered on April 7, that the text messages be shared with the defense attorneys involved in a pending criminal case, the district attorney’s offices released two batches to reporters. The reports did identify the races and genders of the officers that sent the texts, but none has been charged.

The majority of the messages revealed to date were sent in 2020 and 2021. Sgt. Rick Hoffman, President of the Antioch Police Officers Association is listed as the sender. The association has not responded to any requests for comment.

In April 2020, an Antioch police officer texted a colleague at another department: “Since I don’t always have video, I just tell them they gave me their full confession, even if they didn’t. It makes it easier to file.”

A senior inspector from the district attorney’s office wrote in a report that, on June 20, 2020, an officer offered steak dinners to anyone who was able to “40” Thorpe during a protest. This refers to a “.40mm launcher which is less lethal,” as a senior inspection explained. This device could fire rubber bullets or beanbag rounds.

Antioch Police Chief Steve Ford released a statement last Thursday condemning “the racially offensive content and the incomprehensible behaviors being attributed to Antioch Police Department members in media reports.”

The department has also set up a phone number and email address where members of the community can give feedback. Ford did not reply to requests for an interview with The Associated Press sent via email.

Before, police officers were caught sending racist messages to one another. In 2015, the then-San Francisco Police chief Greg Suhr decided to discipline or fire 14 officers who were involved in exchanging racist text messages.

The authorities have not given a timeline as to when the joint investigation could be completed.

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