Authorities charge 9 current and former California police officers in corruption case

Aug 17, 2023, 4:00 PM | Updated: 5:46 pm

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Nine current or former Northern California police officers were charged Thursday in a federal corruption investigation that found evidence they committed civil rights violations and fraud in an effort to get a pay raise and lied on reports to cover up use of excessive force, U.S. authorities said.

Ismail J. Ramsey, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, filed four indictments that outlined charges including wire fraud, deprivation of rights under color of law, conspiracy against rights, and conspiracy to distribute anabolic steroids. Nine police officers and one community service officer are named in the charges, though only two are charged in multiple indictments.

The investigation centered on the departments in Antioch and Pittsburg, two cities in the San Francisco Bay Area. Only three of the officers remain employed by the departments and were not on active duty, officials said.

Arrest warrants were served Thursday in California, Texas and Hawaii, said Robert Tripp, special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office. One has not yet been arrested, officials said.

Tripp said the arrests were the result of a two-year investigation.

“Any breach the public’s trust is absolutely unacceptable,” Tripp said while discussing charges against Antioch officers that include using their official positions as officers to deprive people of their rights.

Charges against Morteza Amiri, Eric Allen Rombough and Devon Christopher Wenger say the three Antioch police officers conspired between February 2019 and March 2022 “to injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate residents of Antioch, California,” authorities said.

The indictment references racist text messages sent by the officers as well as details of times they used excessive force against suspects and later falsified reports about the encounters.

The indictment quotes a text message exchange where Amiri had shared photos with Rombough of a bicyclist bitten by his police dog after he stopped the bicyclist late at night for biking without a light. Rombough replied, “yeah buddy good boy Purcy.”

“Defendants authored police reports containing false and misleading statements to suggest that the force they used was necessary and justifiable,” the indictment said. “In truth and in fact, and as the Defendants well knew, Defendants willfully used excessive force in numerous incidents, including those identified in this Indictment.”

Police unions did not immediately respond to requests for information on whether the defendants have lawyers who can speak on their behalf. Emails to the Pittsburg and Antioch police departments seeking comment were not immediately returned.

Thousands of incendiary text messages by more than a dozen officers in the Antioch Police Department had previously come to light and led to a federal lawsuit. The texts contained derogatory, racist, homophobic and sexually explicit language. In some of them, the officers bragged about making up evidence and beating up suspects. They freely used racial slurs and made light of the police killing of George Floyd in 2020.

The city of Antioch, with about 115,000 residents 45 miles (72 kilometers) east of San Francisco, was once predominantly white but has diversified in the last 30 years. Federal and state prosecutors have dropped or dismissed dozens of cases that relied on the impugned officers and the city now faces a federal civil rights lawsuit over the text messages.

Brauli Rodriguez Jalapa, Ernesto Juan Mejia-Orozco, and Amanda Carmella Theodosy/Nash — and Antioch community service officer Samantha Genoveva Peterson were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud surrounding allegations they had other people take and and complete online university courses toward a criminal justice degree. The police departments offered reimbursement for college tuition and pay raises for those who graduate college, prosecutors said.

Two Antioch officers, Daniel Harris and Wenger, were charged with several counts related to distributing anabolic steroids.

Another Antioch officer, Timothy Manly Williams, faces charges related to the obstruction of the federal investigation.

“Today is a dark day in our city’s history, as people trusted to uphold the law, allegedly breached that trust and were arrested by the FBI,” Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe said in a statement. “As our city absorbs this tragic news, we must come together as one. Today’s actions are the beginning of the end of a long and arduous process.”

Thorpe is among three Black, progressive members of the five-person council who have said they are committed to holding police accountable.

“To those that have accused me and others of being anti-police for seeking to reform the Antioch Police Department, today’s arrests are demonstrative of the issues that have plagued the Antioch Police Department for decades,” he added.

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Authorities charge 9 current and former California police officers in corruption case