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Report on racist messages sent among Antioch, California, police officers sparks protest

<i>Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times/Getty Images</i><br/>Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe and others attend a special city council meeting at City Hall on Tuesday
MediaNews Group via Getty Images
Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times/Getty Images
Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe and others attend a special city council meeting at City Hall on Tuesday

By Veronica Miracle, Taylor Romine and Paradise Afshar, CNN

Protesters gathered outside the Antioch, California, Police Department Tuesday after a report revealed racist text messages sent among some officers and members of the public.

The report from the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office named 17 police officers in the Antioch department who it said sent or received racist text messages in 2020 and 2021, including use of the n-word and sharing pictures of gorillas in reference to Black people.

One text message exchange says the n-word is “commonly used,” the report said. The messages also show frequent discussion about abusing people while on patrol, according to the report. In one exchange from March 2021, an officer bragged to a civilian that he had “field goal kicked” the head of a person in custody and “tried to knock him unconscious.”

The partially redacted report, issued in two parts late last month and released last week, is part of an investigation the prosecutor’s office conducted with the FBI “regarding crimes of moral turpitude and criminal offenses” among current and former officers, the released documents said without detailing what spurred the investigation.

CNN has reached out to 14 of the 17 officers named in the report for comment but wasn’t able to locate the other three.

City officials have previously said almost 20 percent of the Antioch police force sent or received the offensive material in question, CNN affiliate KGO reported. But Ellen McDonnell, a public defender in Contra Costa County, told the outlet she estimated that 40 percent of the 99-member force may have sent or received problematic messages.

In a statement to CNN, Antioch Police Chief Steven Ford said he condemns “the racially abhorrent content and incomprehensible behavior being attributed to members of the Antioch Police Department in media reports.”

“I have taken immediate action to ensure a thorough investigation by an external independent entity is conducted and the community is not exposed to any individuals under question from this reporting,” he said. “On behalf of our organization, I apologize to the Antioch Community for the hurt caused by this hateful speech. I promise to hold accountable the officers expressing racist or bigoted beliefs, biased insensitivity, and those boasting about harming members of the community.”

Tuesday’s protest was hosted by five community groups who are demanding local leaders fire and decertify officers involved in abusive behavior, prosecute all civil rights violations and conduct a full audit of Antioch Police Department’s internal affairs department, among other things, according to a Facebook post.

“It’s just really disturbing stuff to know that’s how they view the people of Antioch,” Jose Cordona, a protester, told KGO. “How could you ever treat a person humanely as a human if you don’t even see them as one?”

The protest in the Bay Area city about 40 miles northeast of San Francisco is one of many held in recent years as the country confronts the issues of racial bias and police brutality.

Text messages detailed in report

Among the messages detailed in the report is one from February 24, 2020, in which an officer texted another officer, “No they didn’t push it that far. Bunch of gorillas surrounding us and taunting a fight since we were hooking [redacted]. They were all [redacted] and didn’t do sh*t. I wish they did.”

One message from May 27, 2020, shows one officer text, “See all the riots in LA?” to another, who replies that he didn’t. “For the gorilla that died,” the first officer said, referencing the murder of George Floyd, according to the report.

An image texted from an Antioch police officer to a private citizen shows “a photograph depicting a large naked African American male, with his penis exposed, sitting on the neck of George Floyd,” the report says. An image is included but is mostly redacted.

The police department started a community feedback hotline for messages to be shared with Ford, his executive command staff and members of the Professional Standards Unit, a Facebook post from the department said. Ford will also be hosting several community listening sessions, which will be announced in the near future, the post said.

The investigation was started under a new California law that disqualifies law enforcement officers from holding the role if they committed certain misconduct.

“The bill disqualifies a person from being employed as a peace officer if that person has been convicted of, or has been adjudicated in an administrative, military, or civil judicial process as having committed, a violation of certain specified crimes against public justice, including the falsification of records, bribery, or perjury,” the report said.

A county public defender has asked the district attorney to dismiss all pending cases represented by public defenders that involve the Antioch Police Department, release incarcerated clients of public defenders and stop filing any APD-related cases because “the public simply cannot have trust or confidence in any criminal prosecution” involving the department.

“The extent of the hatred and lawlessness that has recently been revealed within APD is unfathomable,” public defender Ellen McDonnell wrote last week. “Continuing to prosecute the victims of APD’s targeted, violent, racist policing while simultaneously shielding the officers’ identities and the full extent of their misconduct and criminal activities is manifestly unjust.”

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