‘I’m already good at racial profiling’: New batch of Antioch cops’ texts show how much racism and policing intertwined

ANTIOCH — The latest batch of text messages by Antioch police officers to go public leaves little doubt about how much their self-professed racism seeped into their day-to-day law enforcement work, further underscoring just how damaging to the justice system this widening scandal has become.

A new document containing 128 pages of offensive communications between officers, filed in court Friday, contains racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism, between officers exchanging words not after their shifts, but during the course of their jobs.

The messages make it clear officers factored in residents’ race while on patrol. They discuss targeting Black and Latino people, make light of a Black man being fatally shot hours earlier, call a Middle Eastern man a “terrorist” just minutes after arresting him and refer to their own police chief, who is Black, as a “gorilla.”

“I’m already good at racial profiling,” Officer Eric Rombough texted Officer Jonathan Adams on July 14, 2021, according to the records.

“I’m a trained expert. Learned from the best in the business,” Adams replied 20 minutes later, the report says.

The scandal-plagued Antioch Police Department has seen a cascade of opprobrium since March 2022, when a Superior Court judge signed a search warrant authorizing authorities to seize nine officers’ phones in a still-ongoing FBI criminal probe. Since then, the police force has been hit with federal lawsuits, a civil rights investigation by the California Attorney General and an ongoing conviction integrity probe that has, thus far, resulted in dozens of felony charges being overturned.

More than a dozen current and former Antioch and Pittsburg officers are under investigation for alleged crimes that range from possible violent civil rights violations and assaults, to fraudulent schemes to acquire pay bumps, to drug trafficking, obstruction of justice and weapons violations. The racist and homophobic text messages, discovered by the FBI and Contra Costa District Attorney amid the criminal investigation, impugned many additional Antioch cops now being investigated or placed on leave.

None of the officers so far have been fired as a result, while an internal investigation continues. At least 12 officers are identified in the documents obtained Friday.

These new records describe messages between Rombough — already known to be among the Antioch officers under criminal investigation — and various colleagues. Many of them involve conversations between Rombough and Adams. Out of the nearly 200 messages described, only a handful have been previously publicized in earlier reports by a Contra Costa DA inspector.

As with earlier batches of racist text messages sent between Antioch officers, the latest messages dated from late 2019 to early 2022 again include repeated references to Black people as “gorillas,” often accompanied with racist memes and a monkey emoji. But they also include numerous slurs aimed at Latinos, a joke about Adams acting like a “Jew” by filing his taxes and various homophobic slurs, the documents say.

“(Officer Scott) Duggar and I just had to grab some gorillas out of a car after he was flexing his blackness,” Rombough allegedly texted Adams in August 2021. Less than 20 seconds later, Adams allegedly responded with a laughing emoji.

The conversations between Adams and Rombough contained frequent jokes about letting Black people “kill each other” or generally making fun of violence in the city. In one message, Adams remarked that the city “needs a legit purge week.” On Jan. 24, 2022, after a gunman fatally shot 50-year-old Victor Coleman II, who was Black, outside a liquor store in Antioch, Rombough allegedly texted Adams “Another #2 bites the dust,” using a slang term for human excrement.

“Just doing what they do best,” Adams allegedly replied.

A month before Steven Ford was sworn in as interim police chief, but after he’d been announced internally as the next chief, Adams texted Rombough, “Have you met the new (gorilla emoji) chief yet?”

Ford didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither did Rombough’s attorney. Adams has left the APD, while Rombough is on leave.

Several other texts involve explicit homophobia. One, by Officer Brock Marcotte, simply contains a homophobic slur in all capital letters without any context. Another, allegedly written by Marcotte in October 2020, says, “Any kid wearing plaid shorts and that kinda beanie has no chance of not being a f—–.” Rick Hoffman, the president of the Antioch Police Officers Association, allegedly responded to the remark by selecting the “laughing” reaction on his phone, as did Rombough, the documents say.

One officer boasted about being able to spot “w——s” from “a mile away,” using an anti-Latino slur. In another instance, an officer said he drove by a party for a “dead b—–,” using another slur.

“I have to get back at the w——s again,” Rombough allegedly wrote in April 2021, adding several seconds later that he had been focused on investigating Black people for too long. He also allegedly wrote he wanted to focus on “b—–s and whites.”

In a message sent on Feb. 28, 2022 — less than a month before Rombough’s phone was seized by the FBI — Adams said he was having lunch at a golf course when he recognized a popular Antioch rapper, Big Tone, having lunch a couple tables away. Adams describes the rapper’s lunch companion as a man with “tats all over his face and bald head (sic),” to which Rombough uses a slur and replies, “Oh w——.”

Civil rights attorney John Burris, who has filed a lawsuit seeking oversight of the APD, on Friday said the latest messages “support our belief that this is a department that’s rotten to the core.”

“Obviously a person who makes these types of statements has a sense of freedom that you can do this, and that there’s a level of acceptance among the other officers,” Burris said. “No one came forward to speak up after these comments were made.”

Shagoofa Khan, an activist in Antioch who previously has been the subject of demeaning texts by the city’s police officers, reacted with shock at the latest messages: “These people are brutal. I don’t know how they became police officers in the first place.”

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