California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said Wednesday he would launch a civil rights investigation into the Antioch Police Department after dozens of its officers were caught up in a racist text message scandal that sparked a federal criminal probe.
The “pattern or practice” investigation will focus on bigoted communications collected in a pair of reports by the Contra Costa County district attorney’s office this year and first reported by the East Bay Times.
At least 44 officers, more than half the agency, were named in the reports, which detailed text messages rife with anti-Black slurs and homophobic language, and showed officers bragging about using force against members of their community, according to the East Bay Times.
“It is our job to protect and serve all of our communities,” Bonta said in a statement. “Police departments are on the front lines of that fight every day as they work to safeguard the people of our state. However, where there are allegations of potentially pervasive bias or discrimination, it can undermine the trust that is critical for public safety and our justice system.”
Similar investigations by the California Department of Justice have been launched into the Los Angeles County sheriff’s and probation departments. Bonta also opened a review of the Torrance Police Department after the Los Angeles Times detailed horrific racist text messages shared for years by more than a dozen members of that agency. The investigations are not criminal in nature but are meant to lead to drastic mandated reforms for troubled law enforcement agencies.
They can be slow moving, however. Bonta announced his investigation into Torrance nearly 18 months ago for similar misconduct, and no public reports have been created. Bonta’s office has not provided updates on the matter.
Antioch Police Chief Steven Ford on Wednesday pledged his “full cooperation” with the state investigation.
“We understand the importance of ensuring our policies, procedures, and practices are in line with expectations of 21st Century Policing,” Ford said in a statement.
Ford also released a list of promises to establish policies to ensure “bias-free policing,” train officers in cultural sensitivity and improve documentation of use-of-force incidents.
A department spokeswoman declined to say how many officers had been implicated in the scandal or suspended as a result. According to the East Bay Times, eight current and former officers are subject to a criminal investigation that involves the FBI, and a dozen others have been placed on administrative leave.
According to the texts reviewed by the East Bay Times, one officer bragged about using a a rubber bullet launcher on the target of a raid, and in another thread — when asked what he was up to — said he was “violating civil rights.” County prosecutors are weighing the dismissal or review of hundreds of criminal cases on which the officers served as material witnesses.
A similar review that followed the Torrance scandal led to the dismissal of dozens of pending felony cases. At least one man was freed from prison after it was found that he took a plea deal before prosecutors could disclose that several of the arresting officers had been implicated in the text scandal.
This story originally appeared on LA Times