Judge releases names of 17 California police officers accused of sending racist texts, memes

FBI agents discovered the texts last month after searching the residences and seizing the phones of several Antioch officers amid a probe into allegations of fraud, bribery, drug distribution and civil rights breaches.

The names of 17 California-based police officers suspected of using racist epithets, jokes and memes in text conversations are now public information. 

According to the East Bay Times, Contra Costa County Judge Clare Maier issued a warning before disclosing the names, saying the communications’ foul nature could “incite further hate or racial animus.”

However, she contended that the California evidence code should not be used to protect information about the texts, including the Antioch police officers’ identities. Maier said the inflammatory communications started in September 2019 and continued until January 2022, when FBI agents seized the officers’ phones and other items.

California police racist
The names of 17 Antioch, California police officers are now public as part of an investigation that led to text messages they allegedly sent containing racist jokes, memes and insults. (Photo: Screenshot/YouTube.com/ABC7 News Bay Area)

“I’ve had my eye on Antioch for a long time,” civil rights attorney Adante Pointer said Friday, according to the Times. “This is proof-positive what people who have been watching Antioch already knew — that it is full of officers who do not deserve to wear the badge.”

The roster of embattled officers includes Rick Hoffman, the head of the Antioch Police Association. Hoffman — who has frequently criticized Antioch mayor and police reform advocate Lamar Thorpe — is one of at least eight Antioch officers on leave because of the texts. Six other officers whose alleged criminal activity is already being looked at by the FBI — Devon Wenger, Eric Rombough, Andrea Rodriguez, Calvin Prieto, Morteza Amiri and Tim Manly, who has resigned — are also listed.

While Maier did not specify what each officer sent out, she described the messages as “deeply disturbing” and directed toward “members of the Black and Hispanic community.”

Investigators accused Rombough, Manly and fellow officers Jonathan Adams, Scott Duggar, Joshua Evans, Robert Gerber, Brock Marcotte and Thomas Smith of mentioning four alleged Oakland-based ENT gang members in texts sent over a 10-day period in March 2021, when Antioch police were eavesdropping on the suspects’ phones.

Contra Costa County courts will determine whether or not the messages are sufficient grounds for dropping any charges lodged against people the officers were investigating. That includes anyone the officers mentioned explicitly in the texts and any Black or Latino person investigated or detained, since they might claim they faced discrimination because of their race.

“It’s no wonder why the public has lost faith in law enforcement,” said Pointer, the Times reported, “and why we see Black and Brown people overrepresented in the criminal justice system when the people administering it are racist.”

The evidence will likely reappear in other criminal trials involving those particular police officers and the other lawmen Maier mentioned: Aaron Hughes, Brayton Milner, John Ramirez and Kyle Smith.

The FBI is investigating allegations of fraud, bribery, drug distribution and breaches of civil rights linked to using force within the Antioch and Pittsburg police departments. The agency discovered the officers’ texts last month after executing search warrants at the residences of several officers, arriving at the police station to confiscate phones and other personal belongings.

Michael Rains, the attorney representing Antioch police officers, said he hadn’t received any text messages and is unaware of their alleged content.

Racial conflict has been simmering for years in the northern California city of about 100,000 people as gentrification in the western Bay Area uprooted San Francisco, Oakland and Richmond residents and moved them into the deep East Bay.

Antioch had a 65 percent white population in 2000. According to census data, the Black population has expanded from 10 to 20 percent during the past two decades, notes the Times, while white inhabitants account for 39 percent, and Latinos or Hispanics make up 34.5 percent of the city’s residents.

According to Mayor Thorpe, Antioch’s police department would “absolutely” face staffing challenges because of the number of officers now on leave. “But if that’s what they’re doing (making racist and homophobic texts),” he said, “I don’t want them here.”

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