(CALIFORNIA) — The city of Antioch, California, and at least 9 police officers are facing a lawsuit over alleged civil rights violations by the officers and their alleged involvement in racist, homophobic and sexually explicit text messages.
Civil rights attorney John Burris announced the lawsuit Thursday at a press conference attended by alleged victims of the officers and their families.
“Exactly everything that I was voicing, but you don’t have a voice when you deal with a system like this,” Adam Carpenter, one of the alleged victims named in the lawsuit, said referring to accusations he made about the police.
The Contra Costa district attorney’s office and the FBI have been engaged in a joint federal and state criminal investigation of Antioch and Pittsburg, California, police officers for a “broad range” of crimes over moral turpitude, according to documents obtained by ABC News from the DA’s office.
The two police departments and eight officers are being investigated by the FBI and DA, according to Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe. The FBI didn’t immediately return ABC News’ request for a statement.
Text messages between Antioch police officers from 2019 to 2022 were released on April 13 by the DA in a 21-page report. The DA’s office released a 14-page report with more text messages on Monday.
“I’ve never seen the pervasive form of racial bigotry that was communicated amongst these officers as if it were a cup of coffee,” Burris said. “Knowing what I know now, this community probably should have been more afraid of the police than the gangsters or the criminal that were in their communities.”
Burris said the words were more than just locker room talk, they were a “state of mind.”
Community organizer Shagoofa Khan is a plaintiff in the lawsuit in which she alleges being the subject of offensive text messages sent by one of the accused officers.
When Khan saw the disclosed texts, she said “it was extremely traumatizing, not just for myself, but the entire community of Antioch. I dropped my phone reading those text messages. They were so vile and disgusting.”
“There were different variations of the N word. Even old southern ways of referring to Black women,” Burris said.
In one set of documents from the DA’s office obtained by ABC News, one officer is shown on text talking about kicking a suspect in the head.
The officer says, “We managed to set up a perimeter and he got his a– whooped in the back yard and I field goal kicked his head.”
Someone responds, “I thought that was a no no.”
The first officer replies, “No we can do that just no chokes … I tried to knock him unconscious.”
Devon Wenger, an officer named in the DA’s 21-page report, told ABC News in a statement that there is much that the public is unaware of concerning the FBI and DA’s joint investigation. According to Wenger, the investigation has been corrupted by the FBI, DA, police administration and Mayor Thorpe.
“Out of both released reports, the initial 21-page report and the secondary 14 page report, I just simply said I do not like body cams,” Wenger told ABC News in the statement. “To put it bluntly, that’s not racist.”
Documents sent to ABC News from the DA’s office show the message which Wenger is referring to.
A police officer in the text message exchange says, “If Pitt didn’t have all those body cams and that was us…we would have f—– him up more. He didn’t get what he deserved.”
Wenger replies, “I agree. That’s why I don’t like body cams.”
The Antioch police told ABC News that they would not be releasing a statement at this time.
“We understand the public scrutiny of police officers throughout the nation, and acknowledge that revelations of text messaging such as that reported in this case can provoke emotional and even sometimes hateful responses,” Michael Rains, an attorney who represents many but not all of the officers, told ABC News through a statement. “Nevertheless, police officers, even when accused of potential misconduct, should be afforded basic and fundamental rights of due process.”
Mayor Thorpe told ABC News the city is preparing to launch its own investigation of the police department. According to Thorpe, before a reporter first revealed the content in the texts to him, he didn’t expect them to be so vile. After the reporter read the eighth or ninth text, he said he asked her to stop. He told ABC News he doesn’t intend to ever read those text messages.
“There are people in those text messages, who didn’t respond and didn’t say anything who I know who I thought were some of our best officers,” Thorpe said. “They may have looked at those text messages and said, ‘This is wrong. But I can’t say anything because I know what will happen to my career.’ That’s a cultural problem.”
ABC News’ Jay O’Brien contributed to this report.
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