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California city audits police who sent racist, abusive texts

Apr 19, 2023, 3:23 PM

Kiora Hansen and Della Currie, from left, protest during a rally at Antioch police headquarters in ...

Kiora Hansen and Della Currie, from left, protest during a rally at Antioch police headquarters in Antioch, Calif., on Tuesday, April 18, 2023. The city council of a small San Francisco Bay Area city voted Tuesday to launch three audits of its troubled Antioch Police Department, the latest development in a year-long federal investigation of the police force that blew up this month with the disclosure of racist text messages among officers. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group via AP)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group via AP)

ANTIOCH, Calif. (AP) — A San Francisco Bay Area city council voted Tuesday to audit its troubled police department, the latest development in a year-long federal investigation of the Antioch Police Department that blew up this month with the disclosure of racist and hostile text messages sent by officers.

Angry residents crowded City Hall as the Antioch City Council unanimously approved audits of the department’s internal affairs unit, its hiring and promotional practices and of department culture. Officials have named 17 officers who sent text messages, including the president of the Antioch police union, although Contra Costa County’s public defender said that nearly half of the 100-officer department was included in the text chains.

Defense attorney Ellen McDonnell has asked District Attorney Diana Becton to dismiss all cases involving the public defender’s office and Antioch police. Becton said she is reviewing cases for potential dismissal or resentencing. It’s unclear how many cases are at stake.

“The public simply cannot have trust or confidence in any criminal prosecution involving the Antioch Police Department,” McDonnell said in an email Wednesday. “No one should be charged with a crime based on the report of a police department so thoroughly riddled with corruption.”

The incendiary text messages, which were heavily redacted, contain derogatory, racist, homophobic and sexually explicit language. Officers brag about making up evidence and beating up suspects. They refer to women as water buffalo, share photos of gorillas, freely use racial slurs and make light of the police killing of George Floyd in 2020.

In September 2020, two officers agreed by text to write a large number of traffic citations by targeting a specific group in a specific area. A male officer referred to Black people by a racist slur and said authorities should make them “eat s—.” A female officer responded, “Yes that will be easy. And it will be a good time lol start off quick with the numbers.”

The city of 115,000 residents about 45 miles (72 kilometers) east of San Francisco was once predominantly white but has diversified in the last 30 years, Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe said in an interview Wednesday.

Thorpe is among three Black, progressive members of the five-person council who have said they are committed to holding police accountable and protecting tenants’ rights. In 2021, the city issued an apology for its treatment of early Chinese immigrants.

“What you’re seeing is a maturation process, it’s like watching a teenage kid develop pimples,” he said. “The institutions have taken a long time to catch up with where the voters and public have been.”

The text messages came out as part of an investigation launched in March 2022 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Contra Costa District Attorney’s office into a broad range of offenses, including what prosecutors called crimes of “moral turpitude,” by officers with the Antioch and nearby Pittsburg police departments.

The district attorney’s office released two batches of text messages to reporters after a judge on April 7 ordered the messages shared with defense attorneys in a pending felony case involving some of the officers. The reports did not identify the races of the officers who sent the text messages, and none have yet been charged with a crime.

The messages disclosed to date were sent largely in 2020 and 2021. Sgt. Rick Hoffman, president of the Antioch Police Officers Association, is named as sending communications. The association did not respond to requests for comment.

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.”

In June 2020, one officer offered a steak dinner to anyone who could “40” Thorpe at a protest, referring to a “.40mm less lethal launcher,” a senior inspector for the district attorney’s office explained in a report. Such a device could shoot rubber bullets or bean bag rounds.

Antioch Police Chief Steve Ford issued a statement last week condemning the “the racially abhorrent content and incomprehensible behavior being attributed to members of the Antioch Police Department in media reports.”

His department also established an email address and phone line where community members could give feedback. Ford did not respond to emailed requests to speak with The Associated Press.

Police officers have been busted before for sending bigoted messages to each other. In 2015, then-San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr moved to fire or discipline 14 officers involved in trading racist text messages.

Authorities have given no timeline for when their joint investigation might finish.

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California city audits police who sent racist, abusive texts