07 Aug Civil Rights Attorneys Formally Ask DOJ to Investigate Antioch Police
Attorney John Burris speaks during a press conference at the Antioch Police Department on April 20, announcing the filing of a federal lawsuit against the city of Antioch and members of its police force for numerous civil rights violations. (Ray Saint Germain / Bay City News)
By Tony Hicks
Bay City News
Civil rights attorneys John Burris and Ben Nisenbaum said they sent a letter last week to the United States Justice Department and the United States Attorney of San Francisco, requesting they investigate allegations of civil rights violations against the Antioch Police Department.
The attorneys represent 13 plaintiffs so far in two lawsuits against Antioch police, alleging civil rights violations, among other allegations.
The lawyers said in a statement Sunday, “Our belief is that the department, through its officers and command staff, is engaged in systemic practices of racial, homophobic, and antisemitic policing.”
The California Attorney General’s Office, the FBI, and the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office are already investigating Antioch police, the latter two for at least a year-and-a-half.
Much of those investigations revolve around chains of racist and homophobic text messages involving at least 45 of the department’s approximate 100 officers.
Some of the messages involved threats against Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe, who is Black, and other African Americans and people of color, including recently retired police chief Steven Ford.
Many of the texts showed officers using racist language and describing police violence against suspects. Dozens of officers have been suspended, at least one has been fired, and the city is scrambling to fully staff its ranks.
At least one officer has already been charged with crimes in connection with the texts, and more charges are expected. Charges have already been dropped in at least two cases involved accused officers and suspects who were people of color.
Burris and Nisenbaum’s statement hinted at more plaintiffs willing to come forward.
“We have interviewed at least 140 others who claim that they also have been subject to multiple constitutional violations by Antioch police officers for years,” the statement said.
“Overall, the majority of Antioch police officers appear out of control and with no institutional accountability to monitor their conduct. John Burris believes that ‘the officers represent a clear and present danger to the citizens of this community and must be stopped now.’ ”
Burris and Nisenbaum called for the DOJ to institute a consent decree against the department, forcing it to adhere to new policies and procedures for accountability, with a federal monitor to oversee the reforms.
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