13 police officers in Antioch lost their jobs because of crimes and racist text message scandals

ANTIOCH — Two scandals involving alleged crimes and racism among Antioch police officers have so far cost 13 of them their jobs, according to recently released emails sent by department heads to city officials.

Among the 13 job losses are seven firings related to the texting scandal, three firings of officers who allegedly committed crimes and three other resignations of officers who knew harsh disciplinary action was imminent, city documents say. In addition, six officers were suspended without pay and one received a written reprimand. One officer was cleared of any wrongdoing.

But the city tried to fire or discipline several other officers. They eventually won mediation and had their decisions overturned or reduced, according to several officials with direct knowledge. A lawyer representing most of the officers charged accused the city of “not following its own written disciplinary policy” and predicted that some of the officers would return with back pay.

Multiple law enforcement sources identified six of the officers who received notices of intent to terminate over the texting scandal, including Sergeant Josh Evans, a cop who calls himself “racist” and used the N-word in text messages to fellow officers, and Officer John Ramirez, who in a text message offered a “prime rib dinner” to any officer who fired a non-lethal bullet at the city's black mayor, Lamar Thorpe-Hernandez. The other four were identified as Kelly Inabnett, Brayton Milner, Aaron Hughes and Brock Marcotte. The sources could not identify the seventh officer.

“We are rebuilding the department,” Thorpe-Hernandez said Friday. “We are excited to be able to hire a more diverse group of people, some from the local community, who do not represent the past – and that is racism and corruption.”

The fired officers have the right to appeal and have sought legal advice, multiple sources said. A lawyer for the Antioch police union said the city tried to fire several more officers or impose stricter discipline on them, but the officers were dissuaded after arbitrators ruled they had not followed proper procedures.

Six other officers recently resigned from the Antioch Police Department over alleged criminal offenses: Morteza Amiri, Devon Wenger, Eric Rombough, Ben Padilla, Calvin Prieto and Andrea Rodriguez. Of them, all except Padilla were also implicated in the texting scandal. Officials would not say which of those officers were fired and which resigned, but a city councilwoman confirmed last year that Wenger, Amiri and Rombough – all charged with civil rights violations and violence – received letters of the police department's intent to fire them.

Former Antioch police officers, from top left: Morteza Amiri, Devon Wenger, Eric Rombough, from bottom left: Ben Padilla, Calvin Prieto and Andrea Rodriguez. (Antioch Police Department Facebook)
Former Antioch police officers, from top left: Morteza Amiri, Devon Wenger, Eric Rombough, from bottom left: Ben Padilla, Calvin Prieto and Andrea Rodriguez. (Antioch Police Department Facebook)

Michael Rains, an attorney representing most of the officers, said in a text message that the city had refused to follow its own written policy to recommend and enforce disciplinary action and had disciplined officers who had been exonerated by outside investigators. He accused the city and the Contra Costa district attorney of “colluding” to allow the “agenda-driven” mayor to target officers.

“I am convinced that the arbitrators selected to hear appeals of terminated officers (a process the city had no control over) will be outraged by the process used by the city and will return the officers to their jobs and order the city to pay substantial back pay,” Rains said.

Two other people had previously lost their jobs amid the criminal investigation: Daniel Harris, a former police officer charged with steroid trafficking who resigned in 2022, and Samantha Peterson, a former social worker who was sentenced to probation for her role in a plot to illegally obtain college pay raises by cheating on college tests.

It's been more than two years since FBI agents raided the homes of several police officers and police headquarters in East Contra Costa, leading to criminal charges against 14 police officers and an administrative investigation into text messages containing racist, homophobic, sexist and flippant remarks about police violence. There were also numerous conversations in which the officers discussed obtaining steroids, according to recently filed court documents.

Some of the officers have pleaded guilty or not guilty to federal or state charges. That's the case for Ernesto Mejia-Orozco, a former Pittsburgh police officer charged in the college graduation scandal. Others appear to be sticking to their guns: Lawyers for Wenger and Amiri recently filed motions to quash search warrants for their phones, arguing that federal authorities relied on false testimony or wrote overly broad affidavits to justify illegal searches. Federal prosecutors are opposing the motions, and a judge has yet to rule.

Several lawsuits have been filed as a result of the scandals, and Contra Costa County has devoted millions of dollars to identifying criminal cases that may have been influenced by dishonest or racist police officers. Defense attorneys, particularly public defenders, have also filed petitions under the state's Racial Justice Act to dismiss cases against people charged as a result of Antioch police investigations. Additionally, several federal lawsuits have been filed alleging that Antioch police officers either assaulted or treated the plaintiffs unfairly.

The latest court case involving police was good news for a former Antioch police officer. Matthew Nutt, who was fired in 2022 for punching a handcuffed man, was acquitted of an assault charge on Thursday.