By The Vanguard
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – A federal grand jury in San Francisco Thursday handed down at least three indictments that accuse current and former Antioch and Pittsburg police officers with numerous offenses, including criminal conspiracy, according to an exclusive story by The Bay Area News Group.
The “FBI led a series of raids around California Thursday morning, rounding up officers from Antioch and Pittsburg, in the culmination of an 18-month investigation into an alleged criminal network composed of law enforcement officers,” wrote the news outlet.
The charges range from wire fraud to civil rights violations and interference with a homicide investigation—reportedly, officers appeared in a federal courtroom Thursday in handcuffs.
The Bay Area News Group said, “Antioch K9 Officer Morteza Amiri, a central focus of the FBI probe, was charged in two indictments with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy against rights, deprivation of rights and falsification or destruction of records, officials said in court. U.S. Marshals led Amiri into court, and he appeared with attorneys Michael Rains and Julia Fox.”
The news group added Antioch Officer Eric Rombough was charged in the deprivation of rights and conspiracy…His attorney “bristled at the FBI raids, telling U.S. District Magistrate Donna Ryu that Rombough has strong ties to the Bay Area and would have come to court if he’d been ordered to” do so.
“There is absolutely no reason for Mr. Rombough to appear here in handcuffs today,” his attorney, Will Edelman, said in court.
The news group said other defendants “include former Antioch officers Daniel Harris and Timothy Manly-Williams, who also previously worked for Pittsburg police. Federal prosecutors said Pittsburg Officers Patrick Berhan, Brauli Rodriguez-Jalapa, Ernesto Mejia-Orozco, and Amanda Theodosy are all charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, along with former Antioch Community Services Officer Samantha Peterson.” Ryu said in court that Antioch Officer Devon Wenger is another co-defendant on one of the indictments.
The Bay Area News Group wrote Manly-Williams is charged with obstruction, destruction of records, and violation of rights, and “faces 20 years if convicted. One of the charges involves Manly-Williams allegedly interfering with an ongoing homicide and attempted murder investigation targeting an Oakland-based gang believed to be responsible for several shootings, according to multiple law enforcement sources.”
Reportedly, the wire fraud charges carry a higher penalty than civil rights violations. The defendants face up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted of fraud, up to 10 years if convicted of civil rights violations, and up to 20 years for the alleged destruction of evidence, said the news group.
Amiri, Rombough, Berhan, Peterson, Rodriguez-Jalapa, and Mejia-Orozco pleaded not guilty, and were released on $100,000 property bonds, promising not to contact alleged victims, co-defendants, witnesses, relinquish their weapons, surrender their passports, and agree to travel restrictions. Peterson was released without having to put up property.
Ryu approved the property bond for Rombough, Mejia-Orozco and Berhan over defense objections. Prosecutors argued the bonds were necessary because the officers “swore an oath to protect and serve the community and uphold the constitution and did the opposite.” Ryu agreed.
“Given the very serious nature of these charges and given that Mr. Rombough is charged with abusing his power as a sworn officer, I find that a secured bond is appropriate on both the flight risk and the danger question,” Ryu said.
During Mejia-Orozco’s appearance, Ryu added that she was very concerned with the alleged breach of trust to the community, but reported the Bay Area News Group, granted Mejia-Orozco—an armed security guard in San Francisco—a chance to “argue in a future hearing that he should be allowed to possess a gun at work.”
Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe, who has sought to reform the city’s police department, said Thursday that “today is a dark day in our city’s history, as people trusted to uphold the law, allegedly breached that trust and were arrested by the FBI,” wrote the news group.
Bay Area civil rights attorney John Burris, who filed a sprawling civil rights lawsuit against the city’s police department earlier this year, told the news group Thursday’s indictments were “a good first step towards cleaning up this department” and a validation of residents who have complained about it over the years.
“To me, it’s important for them to know that what they were complaining about wasn’t a mistake or their imagination—it was reality,” Burris said.
Burris added the indictments once again highlight a need for strict federal oversight of the Antioch Police Department, like the independent monitor overseeing the Oakland Police Department after its “Riders” scandal.
“This is a very important step in acknowledging that officers in this department have been on the wrong side of the law for a long period of time,” Burris said.
Shagoofa Khan, a 23-year-old community activist who grew up in Antioch and said officers there put a tracker on her car and disparaged her in racist and sexualized text messages, was relieved that the officers will be held accountable, noting in the Bay Area News Group story, “Finally. This process needs to conclude before the community can heal.”
The investigation began in early 2022, said BANG, when “a tipster informed the FBI and Contra Costa District Attorney that a group of East Contra Costa County cops were cheating on college tests to obtain education incentive pay bumps. The scope of the investigation later widened to include alleged violent crimes and drug trafficking, and precipitated a cascade of scandals that has transformed the Antioch Police Department into one of the most scrutinized law enforcement agencies in California.
Investigators, said the news group, “stumbled upon thousands of racist and homophobic text messages involving dozens of Antioch cops, shining a spotlight on racism within the department that many residents had been attempting to raise alarm bells over for years.
The scandal continues to rock the local criminal justice system. Prosecutors in federal and state court have dropped or dismissed dozens of cases that relied on the impugned officers; Contra Costa County has allocated millions for attorneys to review thousands more criminal files for potential dismissal.
The Bay Area News Group wrote a civil rights lawsuit was filed in Antioch, and California Attorney General Rob Bonta is attempting the same with a civil rights investigation into the city, based on use of force trends Bonta has called “disturbing,” and said caught his eye before the criminal probe became known.
“Antioch’s police department has been in turmoil. Former Chief Tammany Brooks left in 2021 for a job in Idaho, and Steven Ford, a longtime San Francisco Police commander named Antioch’s new chief in early 2022 amid hope he could turn the department around, retired a week ago after less than a year on the job,” noted BANG.