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Editorial: Antioch police indictment response doesn’t cut it, suggests need to clean house

Editorial: Antioch police indictment response doesn’t cut it, suggests need to clean house

The long-anticipated federal indictments this week of 10 Antioch and Pittsburg police officers reveal a pattern of corruption that should outrage not only residents but also cops.

For some of the accused officers, policing wasn’t about serving and protecting the public, it was just the opposite. Policing was a vigilante assault game and suspects were the target.

“lol putting a pistol in someone’s mouth and telling them to stop stealing isn’t illegal,” Antioch Officer Morteza Amiri texted in a telling exchange highlighted in one of the indictments. “It’s an act of public service to prevent further victims of crimes.”

Unfortunately, the Antioch Police Officers Association seems to think this is just another case against some officers. “We are saddened to learn of what has happened and look forward to the legal process playing itself out,” the association posted Thursday on its Facebook page.

The charged officers are entitled to due process. But if other cops in the Contra Costa County city of 115,000 people aren’t shocked by the allegations in the indictments, or are too timid or intimidated to say so, there is little hope for reforming the Antioch department with many of the existing personnel.

Sadly, that might be the case. We know from this news organization’s prior reporting of officers’ troubling text messages that nearly half of the Police Department received at least one of them, that abusive behavior was widely known. Yet it continued.

So, now, “saddened to learn” just doesn’t cut it from the police union. Nor does, “We are committed to still providing quality service to the citizens of Antioch and also providing support for our members who are still working through this difficult time.”

The police association should not be expected to convict the charged cops ahead of trial. But they must condemn the behavior outlined in the indictments.

If the association can’t publicly state that the allegations contain outrageous behavior that has no place in a police department, that they condemn such behavior and that they will work to root out bad cops, then there is no hope for its members. A house-cleaning is in order.

The four indictments include allegations of training course cheating, possession of and conspiracy to distribute anabolic steroids, and interfering with an ongoing homicide and attempted murder investigation.

But the most damning indictment details the sadistic and racist alleged behavior of Antioch Officers Amiri, Devon Wenger and Eric Rombough, who bragged about improperly assaulting people with a 40mm less-lethal launcher and deployment of a police dog.

Between March 2019 and November 2021, Amiri sicced his canine Purcy to bite at least 28 people. In less than one year, between November 2020 and August 2021, Rombough deployed a launcher to shoot at least 11 people.

Don’t be fooled by the less-lethal description; targeting the weapon’s projectiles at the head, neck, chest or other key areas of the body is potentially deadly.

It’s not just the ugly racism and physical abuse that’s so shocking, it’s also the braggadocio that came with it.

“We need to get into something tonight bro!!,” Wenger texted to Amiri. “Lets go 3 nights in a row dog bite!!!”

“I’m gonna f— someone up and hopefully get you a bite,” Rombough texted Amiri in another exchange.

According to the indictment, Amiri in text messages used consecutive numbering to memorialize the dog bites he had accumulated — “just got #3,” “#5 this morning,” “Purcy #6,” and so on — and sent photographs and/or videos of each victim’s injuries.

The trio apparently saw themselves as enforcers, dispensing their own form of “punishment” and bragging about “violating civil rights.”

Rombough collected the spent cartridges from his 40mm shootings for “the mantle,” creating a trophy “flag” in which the munitions were placed among stars and stripes as a commemoration.

There is nothing patriotic here. Rather, this behavior is anathema to the principles of our nation, and to serving and protecting its people.

That the Antioch Police Officers Association doesn’t get it highlights just how deeply abusive and racist behavior is embedded in the department’s culture — and how far the city must go to fix it.

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