Federal Lawsuit Targets Antioch Police Officers Named in Racist Text Scandal, Alleges Officers Conspired to Injure, Oppress Residents

By The Vanguard Staff

ANTIOCH, CA – A federal civil rights lawsuit filed here this week alleges Antioch police officers “brutalized them with less-lethal launchers and police dogs as part of a systematic bid to terrorize the city’s Black residents for sport and pleasure,” according to a story in the Mercury-News.

There was no immediate comment from city attorneys or law enforcement, noted the news organization.

The lawsuit is in addition to other allegations against the Antioch Police Dept.—nine of the department’s officers were indicted last year on state and federal charges after a “racist texting scandal” —said the Mercury-News, adding there are other lawsuits and a CA Dept. of Justice investigation.

The lawsuit by Dajon Smith and Jessie Wilson followed “five months after this newspaper obtained body camera footage detailing the violent arrest of Smith, a transgender woman who was shot with a sponge round, tackled to the ground and then bit by a police dog during an October 2021 encounter in the parking lot of an Antioch grocery store,” even though Smith “threw her hands in the air when those same officers surrounded her with their guns drawn,” wrote the Mercury-News.

“’Don’t you see my hands right here?’ Smith yelled at officers, two seconds before one of them shot her with the sponge bullet,” said the newspaper’s account, adding Smith later was attacked by a police dog as she was being handcuffed.

The city of Antioch and three officers—Eric Rombough, Devon Wenger and Morteza Amiri, all indicted last year on charges of federal civil rights violations after a two-year FBI probe—were named the suit for allegedly conspiring to “injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate” Antioch residents “based on the color of their skin, all while trying to cover up their alleged misdeeds by filing falsified police reports,” said the Mercury-News.

“In Smith’s case, Wenger fired a less-lethal 40mm round at Smith almost immediately after Antioch police Sgt. Joshua Evans—who was named in the department’s racist texting scandal—told Wenger to ‘plug (her) a– with the 40,’ the lawsuit alleged. The round hit her in the chest, after which she could be heard howling in pain as a police dog bit into her arm while officers held her on the ground,” wrote the Mercury-News.

“#Newyearnewme Hahah jk Just trying to get on swat bro!,” Wenger replied in a text, according to the suit, to Amiri, who praised Wenger and asked to see Wenger’s body camera footage of it, saying “I love this wenger!!”

The Mercury-News story notes the “Oct. 26, 2021 incident is included in the final count of an eight-count federal indictment filed in August, which charged Wenger, Rombough and Amiri with conspiracy and deprivation of civil rights.”

In an interview, Smith told the Mercury-News the officers “just had their mind already made up before they got there. I was like: What’s happening, what’s going on? I couldn’t really do anything or say anything. I didn’t even swing or take no aggressive action or anything like that.”

The lawsuit also described an encounter between Antioch police and Wilson, who was shot two months earlier with a less-lethal 40mm round fired by Rombough barged into a locked bedroom where Wilson had been sitting on an air mattress and playing video games, said the Mercury-News, adding “Rombough allegedly fired the launcher at Wilson, injuring him.”

“Afterward, Rombough asked another officer—who was not named in the lawsuit—to get photographs of Wilson,” the lawsuit said. “The request followed a trend of officers sharing pictures of people they shot in other cases and cracking jokes or glorifying their use of violence,” wrote the Mercury-News.

“Defendants encouraged one another to continue the scheme to deprive the individuals in and around Antioch of their constitutional rights,” the lawsuit alleged, according to the Mercury-News, adding “the incident was one of four where Antioch commanders found officers’ use of force conformed with department guidelines, while the FBI and a federal grand jury later concluded those same acts constituted violent crimes that carry prison terms and were part of a years-long scheme to violate the civil rights of citizens.”

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