June 20, 2024
The allegations filed Thursday are remarkably varied, including everything from alleged college credit scams to racially-motivated police brutality laid out in unabashedly bigoted text messages to steroid distribution.

The FBI’s sprawling investigation into widespread corruption across the Antioch and Pittsburg police departments led to the indictment of 10 people on Thursday, marking one of the Bay Area’s largest and most searing policing scandals in recent memory.

Nine police officers — five Antioch cops and four from Pittsburg — and one Antioch community service officer were named in four indictments alleging years of suspected misdeeds across East Contra Costa County. The allegations were remarkably varied, including everything from alleged college credit scams to steroid distribution to racially motivated police brutality laid out in unabashedly bigoted text messages.

Here’s a rundown of the four types of cases being brought by the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District California:

‘Hopefully you get a bite’: Civil rights charges allege brutal tactics

Antioch officers Morteza Amiri, Devon Wenger and Eric Rombough are accused of plotting violence against specific people, collecting “trophies” of their crimes and reveling in the “gore” caused by their actions. They’re also accused of falsifying accounts of the violence to cover their tracks.

It started in April 2019 and continued until early 2022 when the officers’ homes were raided by the FBI, according to prosecutors.

“I was planning on enjoying the day off but f— them for f—ing with an officer,” Amiri said in one 2019 text to Rombough, records show.

“Me too, and exactly I’m going to f— someone up and hopefully you get a bite,” Rombough replied.

“Exactly! Blood for blood,” Amiri replied, according to the indictment.

The allegations mirror previous revelations of alleged police brutality and racist policing by several of the Antioch officers, who sent text messages between each other using the N-word and bragging about brutalizing criminal suspects, documents obtained by this news organization show. But the batch of texts detailed in court papers released Thursday largely centered on the use of Amiri’s police dog, Purcy, who bit dozens of people while under the oversight of Amiri, the indictments alleged.

Via text, the indictment says, the trio egged each other on to use violence and swapped photos of people they had injured. In one text, Wenger wrote “we need to get into something tonight bro!! Lets go 3 nights in a row dog bite.” Later that night in August 2020, Amiri and Wenger pulled somebody out a car, took them to the ground, and Amiri later texted Wenger pictures of that injured person.

The next day, Amiri raided a homeless camp with an officer from a neighboring agency and sicced Purcy on a man inside a tent, court records say. He later texted that the man was “laying in bed acting like he was asleep” and that Amiri stood there and “game planned how to f— him up,” then proceeded to unleash his dog.

“You would have loved it,” he later texted Wenger. “(The officer from another agency) agreed to keep cameras off,” a reference to police body worn cameras.

“F— that nerd! That’s what f—ing happens when you run, you acquire a tax,” Wenger replied. “His tax was paid properly. Good s— bro.”

Prosecutors say between March 2019 and November 2021, Amiri’s dog bit 28 people, and Rombough deployed a .40mm “less lethal” launcher at 11 subjects from November 2020 through August 2021. Records show that of the 28 bite victims, 19 were Black residents, or 68 percent.

Alleged steroid sales and covered tracks

Two Antioch police officers — Daniel Harris and Wenger — were charged with several felonies after prosecutors say they tried to sell anabolic steroids. And when federal investigators seized one of their phones, the agents discovered that several texts had been deleted in an apparent attempt to cover the officers’ tracks, the prosecutors alleged Thursday.

The scheme dated to March 2022, when the two officers exchanged texts about delivering steroids to a person identified only in the indictment as B.M., court papers say. Federal investigators say that Wenger then selectively deleted texts sometime before FBI agents took his phone on March 23, 2022.

How the investigation all began: An alleged college credit scam

The indictment citing the most officers speaks to the root of the FBI’s investigation: Concerns that police officers were boosting their paychecks by cheating their way into fake college degrees.

From June 2019 through May 2021, prosecutors say six current and former Antioch and Pittsburg police officers schemed to have at least one other person take college tests for them. That’s because pay increases for new educational degrees can be anywhere from 2.5 percent to 10 percent, depending on the union contract.

Most of the officers — Amiri, Samantha Peterson, Ernesto Mejia-Orozco and Amanda Theodosy, who also goes by the name of Amanda Nash — made at least one payment of no more than a few hundred dollars for their courses, the indictment said.

But a couple others ponied up significantly more money as part of the scheme, prosecutors say. Brauli Rodriguez-Jalapa, a former Pittsburg officer who left to join the Oakland Housing Authority force, made a $12,130 payment in May 2021, court documents show, while former Pittsburg Officer Patrick Berhan made a $2,400 payment in December 2020.

Federal prosecutors charged each of them with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and forfeiture allegation. At least two of the officers had tried — in vain, it appears — to avoid prosecution by paying back back tens of thousands of dollars in bonus money, this news organization previously reported.

A wire tap and an alleged tip-off

Timothy Manly Williams, a former Antioch and Pittsburg cop, is accused of obstructing or interfering with an FBI and APD wiretap case of gang members suspected of murder. While working in the wiretap room and monitoring calls, authorities allege he used his personal cell phone to call a target of the case and did not mark it a pertinent call, meaning it was not recorded and he never logged the conversation. Court papers do not detail what was said on the call, but sources have said that Manly-Williams left APD after it was discovered.

The deprivation of rights charge has to do with a situation in May 2021. While Manly was on patrol, he snatched a cell phone from a person who was filming another officer siccing a police dog on someone and destroyed the device, the indictment alleges. In doing so, he violated the person’s rights against unreasonable search and seizure, authorities say.