City of Antioch, California and its members infamous police force has been hit with a federal lawsuit for civil rights violations stemming from a barrage of racist text messages that rocked the community.
John Burris, an Oakland-based civil rights attorney known for his work exposing police brutality, filed a complaint in federal court Wednesday on behalf of four individuals who say they were targeted by police officers who Sent text messages using profanity to describe and brag about black people. About fabricating evidence and beating up suspects. A fifth plaintiff is suing on behalf of his father, who was shot and killed by two officers involved in the text scandal.
“This fact pattern is the most comprehensive racial hate case I have ever been involved in,” Burris said at a press conference Thursday outside the Antioch Police Department, during which he described the racial slurs and derogatory words used by the officers. “The conduct itself was so appalling that it was much more than just locker room talk, it was a state of mind.”
Burris said that all officers involved in the scandal should be fired, the remainder should be reevaluated and a federal overseer should be brought in to ensure that 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 revealed by an ongoing investigation by the FBI and the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office have spooked residents of the racially diverse city about 45 miles east of San Francisco. He also prompted the county’s district attorney to review criminal cases involving the department.
The texts include frequent use of the words “monkey” and “gorilla” and claim to be targeting black people for beating suspects and making traffic stops. In April 2020, an Antioch officer texted an officer from another police department: “Since we don’t have the video, I sometimes just say that people gave me a full confession, when they didn’t , then filing became easier.”
The messages are largely from 2020 and 2021 and were sent by 17 designated officers of the 100-person Antioch police force, including the president of the Antioch police union. The county’s public defender has said that about half of the department was subpoenaed in the text series, and no one 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 by four officers in November 2020. Prior to arrest, officers pulled him over several times and took his money and cell phone without any documentation, he said.
Carpenter, 33, said he had been in custody for almost a year and was released in April 2022. The state dropped the charges against him last week, they said. During the press conference, he said that the allegations “ruined his life.”
Another affected person, Cordell Smith, said that “when it comes to these officers, it’s always their word against ours.”
Another plaintiff, Trent Allen, is one of four youths in their late 20s facing charges of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. His mother, Shirrell Cobbs, said the officers wrote about brutally beating each other.
“They said my son’s head is like a bowling ball and, um, they try to sedate him,” Cobbs said. “They bragged about it. They laughed about it and sent pictures.”
The lawsuit includes the city, three past and present police chiefs, a sergeant and five police officers as defendants. Police Chief Steven Ford, who has led the department since April 2022, did not respond to emails and phone calls seeking comment.
Tammany Brooks, who was Antioch police chief from May 2017 to October 2021, also did not respond to an email 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 time limit for its completion.