By Crescenzo Vellucci
The Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
ANTIOCH, CA – A reporter with Pacifica-funded radio station KPFA filed a federal civil rights lawsuit late last week in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, claiming he was “tackled” and “tased” by Antioch Police at a small demonstration opposing the city’s former police chief, Tammany Brooks, on Sept. 17, 2021.
But the law firm, in its released statement, also focused on a “growing number of civil rights lawsuits filed against the 100-person department since a joint investigation by the FBI and the Contra Costa District Attorney revealed numerous incidents of potential, intentional civil rights violations, abuse of authority and perjury committed by Antioch officers.”
In fact, the lawyers charged this latest legal action targeting APD is just a sample, according to the FBI/Contra Costa DA probe, that has “revealed officers engaging in assault under color of authority, distribution of steroids and cocaine, committing fraud, eliciting false confessions and taking bribes; and a web of racist, homophobic, sexist and derogatory texts which were shared among nearly half the city’s officers, including supervisors.”
In the lawsuit just announced, Frank Sterling named the city of Antioch and six officers from the APD as defendants in the 17-page lawsuit, filed by the civil rights law firm of Pointer & Buelna, LLP. Officers named include, Brandon Bushby, Steven Miller, Geoffrey Morris, Brian Rose, Ricardo Angelini and Nicholas Gaitan.
The lawsuit maintains that while only about six protestors were present, they drew all the attention of APD officers, while a much larger group of “aggressive group of police supporters, who were seemingly hell-bent on initiating a fight” were ignored and allowed to pass through police lines.
The Sterling pleading called officers’ action “another example of biased policing that appears to be founded in ideological differences with the protestors and sympathies for the pro-police supporters.”
According to the law firm’s suit, “Officers dragged…Mr. Sterling face-down to the ground and twisted his legs in a manner that seemed solely intended to cause harm. Mr. Sterling did not resist the Defendant Officers, yet they repeatedly yelled at him to stop fighting as a pretense to continue their assault on him.”
Sterling, according to the filing, was pinned to the ground by officers and while being handcuffed, another officer “unnecessarily Tased Mr. Sterling in the lower back and buttocks.”
A charge against Sterling for allegedly resisting arrest was later dismissed. His cellphone and voice recorder, seized during his arrest, have never been returned.
Before Sterling’s “arrest,” the officers, reads the federal pleading, “unsurprisingly targeted (another) protester, roughly grabbing her and putting her under arrest while leaving the police supporter (fighting her) alone.”
“While Mr. Sterling was capturing via video recording the possibly unlawful arrest and use of force, he physical intervened…(officers) then grabbed Mr. Sterling by the neck…gang-tackling Mr. Sterling and pinning him to the ground…Officers dragged the compliant Mr. Sterling face-down on the ground and twisting his legs in a manner that seemed solely intended to cause harm,” said the lawsuit.
In a statement, Oakland civil rights attorney Adanté Pointer said, “Abuses of power, violations of civil rights, open racism — these problems aren’t confined to just 45 percent of the Antioch Police force.”
“This is a systemic cancer,” Pointer added. “What happened to Mr. Sterling is what we can expect when a police force becomes a gang unto itself, scorning what every citizen is entitled to: law enforcement that is fair and just and, above all, respects the rights of everyone. We entrust them to protect these rights, our rights, and it appears half of Antioch PD doesn’t take that seriously.”
Sterling has “focused” his career on covering police brutality cases and advocates for victims of police brutality and the unhoused, and this may have made him a target, the lawsuit states
Sterling’s law firm said the reporter was “the target of Antioch Police in 2009, when he was beaten and arrested following a noise complaint. An arresting officer, c, called him ‘faggot’ before kicking him in the face while Sterling was already in custody and on the ground.”
Hoffman was “implicated in the racist and homophobic group texts uncovered by the joint FBI/DA investigators,” charged Sterling’s lawyers.
“Criminal charges filed against Sterling in 2009 ‘were dropped after exculpatory video evidence was discovered in the possession of APD,’ despite denying the existence of the video to Sterling and his attorney,” the lawsuit states.
“This case is a stark reminder that the police are not politically neutral,” said civil rights attorney Ty Clarke, of Pointer and Buelna. “This small group of activists were protesting police brutality and were met by a much larger group of confrontational police supporters. The Antioch officers decided to brutalize numerous protesters for the same conduct they allowed police supporters to do with impunity.
“Mr. Sterling was unarmed, pinned to the ground by five officers, and in the process of being handcuffed when a sixth officer ran up and Tased him. This biased, unconstitutional policing has no place in our society.”
The Sterling federal filing discusses in detail findings of the CCCDA and the FBI investigations, and the “dozens of sickening racist texts shared between nearly two dozen APD Officers over the past two (2) years. These texts reflect just how pervasive and entrenched this culture of lack of accountability, racism, violence, and disregard for civil rights is in the APD.
“Officers bragged about being able to use racist slurs in group messages with supervisors and internal affairs sergeants. Officers referred to Black people in disgusting and racist terms that are so vile that Plaintiff elects not to repeat.”
The suit also notes, “When one (1) officer told others that he had been called racist, Sergeant Rick Hoffman—the president of the Antioch Police Officer’s Association—laughed and responded that the accuser had a point about the officer being racist.”
And the Sterling pleading quotes Antioch Police Officer Morteza Amiri, who allegedly “told a Brentwood Police Department Officer that the N-word was ‘commonly used’ around the APD, even in groups that included supervisors and internal affairs sergeants. Recent reporting suggests that at least 45 APD Officers were on these text chains, including at least 16 officers in leadership roles.”
The lawsuit added, “Beyond the shocking and abhorrent racism reflected in the APD by these messages, the texts also illustrate the APD’s culture of total disregard for civilians’ civil rights, particularly protesters…APD Officers congratulated each other on the violence that they
inflicted upon civilians during arrests and talked about falsifying police reports.
“When discussing a Black Lives Matters protest, yet another officer promised to buy any officer a prime rib dinner at a fancy steakhouse if they shot Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe—a Black man—with a rubber bullet weapon that is commonly used on protesters. Other officers shared images mocking the death of George Floyd and referred to him as a racist slur