California’s top law enforcement officer will investigate whether a police department rocked by allegations involving racist and derogatory text messages committed widespread civil rights abuses, officials said Wednesday.
In a statement, the office of California Attorney General Rob Bonta said the investigation into “deeply concerning” allegations leveled at the Antioch Police Department in recent weeks will determine whether the agency engaged in a “pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing.”
“If, through this investigation, the Attorney General’s Office determines that unlawful activity or practices took place, the office will also determine what potential actions are needed to ensure comprehensive corrective action takes place at APD,” the attorney general’s office said.
An investigative report compiled by the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office after a joint FBI and local investigation into the police department alleged last month that dozens of officers sent or received racist and derogatory messages in 2020 and 2021.
The messages include homophobic slurs, racist images and the casual discussion of using “less lethal” weapons on people, including the city’s mayor, who is Black, according to the report.
"The early indications that we've seen here in Antioch raise significant red flags," Bonta told reporters Wednesday.
A spokeswoman for the police department in Antioch, northeast of San Francisco, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Bonta's investigation.
Police Chief Steven Ford has condemned the “racially abhorrent content and incomprehensible behavior being attributed to members of the Antioch Police Department in media reports.”
The Antioch Police Officers Association did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Eight officers have been placed on administrative leave in connection with the allegations, said Michael Rains, a lawyer representing some of the officers named in the report.
Several people have sued the department over the allegations, arguing in a federal lawsuit filed last month that six of the officers identified in the report violated their civil rights at the same time they were exchanging the messages.
Rains said Wednesday that he has no objection to Bonta's looking into the matter, "provided it is done in a thorough and objective fashion."
"I think if the Attorney General does so, and reports any findings to the public, he will conclude that, despite suggestions in many media accounts that inappropriate text messaging was widespread in the agency, that was simply not the case — the text messages which Mr. Bonta and others have described as offensive have been generated by very few officers," Rains said in an email.