Ten California police officers have been charged for violating civil rights
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Ten law enforcement officers in the Bay Area have been indicted by the U.S. attorney on charges of corruption and violating civil rights. It's the result of more-than-two-years-long FBI investigation into alleged wrongdoing and abusive policing in two Bay Area suburbs. NPR's Sandhya Dirks has been following the story and joins us. We will note that there'll be reference to racist language allegedly used by some of these officers. Sandhya, thanks so much for being with us.
SANDHYA DIRKS, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Scott.
SIMON: And tell us, please, what's in these charges.
DIRKS: So it all started with a tip that police officers in this town, Antioch, Calif., which is about 45 minutes north of Oakland, were allegedly cheating on college classes in order to pass the classes and be eligible for raises. Allegedly, some officers in the neighboring town of Pittsburg were also cheating, but the charges go much further. Some officers are accused of a conspiracy to sell drugs - anabolic steroids, to be exact. Another is accused of obstructing an FBI murder investigation and destroying evidence. And then three Antioch police officers have been explicitly accused of civil rights violations.
SIMON: What violations specifically?
DIRKS: So this indictment is 29 pages long, and it, you know, alleges a deeply disturbing pattern of illegal uses of force and that these officers then bragged about that to each other. Here's Ismail Ramsey, the U.S. attorney for Northern California.
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ISMAIL RAMSEY: The defendants also allegedly shared photos of their victims' injuries and even collected as mementos spent ammunition from their attacks on the people of Antioch.
DIRKS: Allegedly, one officer would sic his police dog on people, and every time his police dog would violently bite someone, he would send a text message counting the number of bites he was racking up, all the way up to 28 dog bites. Another officer is accused of shooting people with what's known as a 40-millimeter launcher weapon, which fires what police call less-than-lethal ammunition. It can still severely hurt people. And that same officer is accused of collecting the spent munitions and creating what the indictment calls a trophy flag out of them. And then they allegedly lied about it. The indictment accuses them of covering up illegal uses of force in police reports by saying it was all necessary and justifiable. All of the officers have pleaded not guilty to all of these charges.
SIMON: And who, Sandhya, are these officers accused of targeting?
DIRKS: Well, during the FBI investigation - in fact, this past spring, a trove of racist and sexist messages was released to the press and the public. Some of them are even referenced as evidence in the indictment. But it goes beyond just the officers charged. In total, almost half of the department was on the text chain and either was actively texting or said nothing to stop it.
In these texts, police officers call Black people gorillas and the N-word. They admit to violating civil rights. They talk about manufacturing confessions, and they talk about targeting Black people for violence. So race is a huge part of what's happening here, even though it's not necessarily front and center in the indictments. Interestingly, the charges of cheating on college courses, wire fraud carry 20 years, twice as much time as the alleged civil rights abuses.
SIMON: Sandhya, what kind of reaction have you heard so far in the community?
DIRKS: I spoke with Shagoofa Khan, a young activist who grew up in Antioch. She was crudely mentioned by name in a racist and sexist text. She says a lot of people feel vindicated by seeing all of this out there.
SHAGOOFA KHAN: We've been fighting for years to hold these Antioch police officers accountable for their actions and what they've done to community members.
DIRKS: But she says it's about more than just the officers who are charged. It's about the entire police department and how, for a long time, it has made residents, especially residents of color, unsafe. As far as these indictments, some of the charged officers have already been fired. Some are suspended. It's a little murky. But next, this case will head to trial unless someone makes a deal.
SIMON: NPR's Sandhya Dirks. Thanks so much.
DIRKS: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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