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Antioch Hit With Third Civil Rights Lawsuit; Attorneys Say Goal Is Police Department Reform

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(Image courtesy of Antioch Police Department via Bay City News)

By Aly Brown
Bay City News

The city of Antioch is now facing its third civil rights lawsuit following an investigation of its Police Department, and the plaintiffs’ attorneys say to expect additional suits to arise as they build a case aimed at reform and mandated oversight.

“We’ve got a large group of victims, and there will be more,” said Ben Nisenbaum, a civil rights attorney with Burris, Nisenbaum, Curry & Lacy.

The other two lawsuits were also brought forward by clients represented by his firm. With this new complaint, filed Thursday, there are now a total of 20 plaintiffs citing cases of abuse, false imprisonment, unlawful searches, unprovoked shootings, unwarranted police K-9 attacks, among other violations at the hands of Antioch Police Department officers.

Nisenbaum explained that the number of victims is now large enough that his firm can demonstrate a breadth of violations and move forward with a Monell claim, referring to the 1978 case of Monell v. Department of Social Services. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Monroe v. Pape, dissolving immunity for public entities and holding them accountable for their employees’ actions.

The end result they’re seeking, Nisenbaum said, is policy change through a negotiated settlement agreement, which would be overseen by a federal judge and enforce measures of reform as prescribed. For example, one piece of the NSA could require reporting incidents of receiving a text message with the n-word from fellow employees and regular auditing of officers’ phones.

Civil rights attorney John Burris — also of Burris, Nisenbaum, Curry & Lacy — said that while the number of victims coming forward helps build their case, the focus remains on the department as a whole.

“So ultimately, at the end of the day, we’re talking about the ability to reform this department and to reform it by putting in controls and monitoring systems that allow for this kind of conduct to be prevented,” Burris said, highlighting the NSA that reformed the Oakland Police Department following the “Riders” scandal that surfaced in 2000 — a case that bore a resemblance to the APD’s systemic racism problem with officers arresting innocent people of color, falsifying reports, and brutalizing residents.

An investigation released March 27 of this year by the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office uncovered racist and homophobic text messages distributed among APD officers.

On Aug. 16, a federal grand jury filed four indictments that collectively charged 10 current and former officers and employees from the Antioch and Pittsburg police departments with various crimes, including fraud, conspiracy to distribute anabolic steroids, interference with an investigation and illegal seizure and destruction of a telephone.

Though dozens of officers were tangled up in the investigation and put on leave, the fourth indictment charged only three Antioch police officers — Morteza Amiri, Eric Rombough, and Devon Wenger — with conspiracy against rights and deprivation of rights under color of law.

Nisenbaum further pointed out that about 43% of the APD department was placed on leave over the course of the investigation, underscoring a deeper issue.

“I cannot imagine for the life of me that you have this wide-ranging sending of text messages to so many people —  feeling that comfort level to do that — without it being a well-accepted fact of life that your department is full of racist people, and nobody cares,” he added.

‘Fire Everyone Who Is Racist’: Black Antioch Residents, Mayor React to Police Texting Scandal

In this most recent civil rights suit against Antioch, seven new plaintiffs — including someone who was a 16-year-old youth at the time of the incident — have come forward and alleged varying accounts of civil rights violations and named former and current APD chiefs and officers for either their direct participation or looking the other way when they should have corrected their subordinates.

The defendants list includes Tammany Brooks, Tony Morefield, Steven Ford, Matthew Nutt, Josh Evans, Rombough, Amiri, Scott Duggar, John Ramirez, Timothy Manly Williams, Tom Lenderman, Loren Bledsoe, Thomas Smith, Calvin Prieto, Andrea Rodriguez, Jonathan Adams, Wenger, Daniel Harris, Robert Gerber, Kyle Hill, Brock Marcotte, Arron Hughes, Dan Guise, an officer named only by his last name Moore, along with 100 unnamed “John Does.”

In April 2022, plaintiff Shaquille Hillard alleges he was searched and arrested without cause by Hughes and Amiri, the officer who in his texts called Black people “gorillas” and other derogatory terms, while also saying, “I sometimes just say people gave me a full confession when they didn’t. gets filed easier [sic].”

The case complaint further details Gregorio Yarborough’s account of being shot in the back two times by Guise while unarmed and lying on his stomach, as directed to do so by officers.

Plaintiff Tahjay McCullough was 16 in 2020 when he says he was pulled from the backseat of a car fueling up at a Shell gas station before he was slammed on the ground, kicked and punched by Prieto and Rodriguez as they called him a “black gorilla” and the n-word.

Other plaintiffs include Danyel Earl Lacy, Quincy Mason, Marcell Lewis and Kaycee Suitter. The full complaint can be found at

“It’s the arrogance, you know,” Nisenbaum said of the officers. “They believe that they have impunity. And that is the fundamental problem.”

Officials from the city of Antioch and the APD did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit.

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