Possible violation of officers’ rights, could undermine investigation; officers’ attorney considering “massive” lawsuit against DA’s Office
By Allen D. Payton
In the initial redacted version of the 21-page report dated March 27, 2023, on the racist and other offensive texts by Antioch Police Officers by the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office revealed those officers’ cell phone numbers and the names of the Antioch and Pittsburg Police Officers under investigation by the FBI since March 2022, plus the list of their alleged “crimes of moral turpitude” that are supposed to be under court protective order. That version was leaked and posted by someone on social media Thursday morning, April 13, 2023. The result has been a firestorm because it violated the court order and possibly the police officers’ rights and could undermine the investigation. It could also result in a “massive class action lawsuit” against the DA’s Office according to the attorney for the Antioch Police Officers Association (APOA). (See related article)
The DA’s office incorrectly redacted the document before releasing it because the leaked redacted version of the report allows for copying of the information beneath the black blocks revealing the sensitive information. NOTE: The PDF of that version was not shared by the Herald. Only the PDF of the further redacted version by the DA’s Office.
It was the Herald that revealed the mistake to the CCDA’s Public Information Officer Ted Asregadoo on Thursday, who said it was an Adobe software issue. He said the information was under court protective order, thanked this reporter and said the office would be changing how they create PDF’s which they did for the final redacted copy the office issued that afternoon.
Officers Receiving Angry Calls
When asked about the matter, Mike Rains, the APOA’s attorney said, “We’re aware of it. Some of the officers have been getting angry calls.”
Asked if the DA’s Office violated the officers’ rights and if it could undermine the FBI’s and DA’s investigation of those officers, Rains said, “I think it does. I believe it will result in a massive class action lawsuit. The DA’s Office f-ed up.”
He also shared that the officers were obtaining new cell phone numbers.
“It was Deputy DA Simon O’Connell who did the redacting,” Rains stated. “I called Becton and told her they screwed up.”
Questions were sent to DA Becton, O’Connell and Asregadoo, Thursday night asking if it was O’Connell who redacted the initial version of the report and if so, will there be some form of discipline of him for doing so. They were also asked if the revelation of the phone numbers of the 14 officers on the list of those accused of sending the offensive texts and more importantly, the officers names, phone numbers and information from the investigation by the DA’s Office and the FBI, undermine that investigation and does it violate those officers’ rights.
Asregadoo responded Friday morning, copying Becton and O’Connell, “The joint CCCDAO and FBI investigation is ongoing, so we really don’t have anything to comment on at this time.”
Becton later responded simply, “Ok, thanks for the update.”
Revealed Information About FBI Investigation
The information now in the public domain, some of which was previously reported by the East Bay Times, includes the names of the Antioch and Pittsburg Officers under investigation by the FBI and DA’s Office, plus the alleged crimes they committed. They were described as “crimes of moral turpitude” which is defined as “conduct that shocks the public conscience, or which does not fall within the moral standards held by the community” for buying and selling controlled substances believed to be steroids among themselves. (See related articles here and here)
The portion of the report that was supposed to be redacted and out of public view reads as follows:
“The FBI is currently investigating the police officers for violations of the following federal offenses; Title 21, United States Code, Sections 841(A), distribution, and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance; Section 843(b) illegal use of the mail in furtherance of narcotic trafficking; Title 18, USC, 1503 Obstruction of Justice; Section 846, attempt and conspiracy to commit the foregoing offenses; Section 241, Conspiracy for two or more persons to agree to injure, threaten, or intimidate a person in the United States in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege; and Section 242, a crime for a person acting under color of any law to willfully deprive a person of a right or privilege protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States. The CCCDAO is investigating these officers for assault under the color of authority, bribery, embezzlement, possession of controlled substances (steroids) for sale, knowing or offering any false or forged instruments, possession, and sales of assault weapons, and attempt and conspiracy to commit the foregoing offenses. The CCCDAO is also reviewing whether any of the above listed individuals have violated Penal Code (PC) section 745, the Racial Justice Act, which prohibits the use of race, ethnicity, or national origin by a law enforcement officer in pursuit of a conviction or sentence.
On 03/22/2022, the Honorable Presiding Judge Rebecca C. Hardie, Judge of the Superior Court of California, Contra Costa County, signed a search warrant under seal authored by CCCDAO Senior Inspector Larry J. Wallace for the seizure and search of the following cellular telephones: Pittsburg Police Officer Willie Glasper, (redacted phone number); Pittsburg Police Officer Brauli Rodriguez Jalapa, (redacted phone number); Pittsburg Police Officer Ernesto Juan Mejia-Orozco, (redacted phone number); Pittsburg Police Officer James Robert Anderson, (redacted phone number); Antioch Police Officer Ben C. Padilla, (redacted phone number); Antioch Police Officer Eric Rombough, (redacted phone number); Antioch Police Officer Devon Wenger, (redacted phone number); and Antioch Police Officer Andrea Rodriguez, (redacted phone number). The search warrants and affidavits were signed under seal and filed with the Martinez Superior Court.
On 03/22/22, the Honorable Laurel Beeler, United States Magistrate, Northern District of California, signed a federal search warrant under seal authored by FBI Special Agent (SA) Thuy Zoback for the seizure of the following cellular telephones: Pittsburg Police Officer Armando Montalvo; Pittsburg Police Officer Patrick Berhan; Antioch Police Officer Timothy Manly Williams; Antioch Police Officer Morteza Amiri, Antioch Police Officer Nicholas Shipilov; Antioch Police Officer Eric Rombough; Antioch Police Officer Daniel Harris; and Antioch Police Officer Calvin Prieto. The purpose of the search warrants were to seize electronic communications; such as, but not limited to the following: records and communications indicating the possession, use, purchase, sale, distribution, transfer, theft, and/or concealment of controlled substances, including books, receipts, notes, ledgers, pay and owe sheets, correspondence, records noting price, quantity, date and times when controlled substances were purchased, possessed, transferred, distributed, sold or concealed.
On 03/23/2022, sworn law enforcement members of the CCCDAO and the FBI retrieved the above listed cellular telephones from the above listed sworn law enforcement members of the Pittsburg and Antioch Police Departments. Law enforcement members from the CCCDAO and the FBI downloaded/extracted electronic cellular data communications from the above listed cellular telephones. A thorough review of the electronic cellular data communications took place for the past year.”
Rains Exploring Legal Options
“I am exploring legal options including a possible lawsuit related to our grave concerns about the way in which this report was ordered released by the court to begin with, when I was supposed to be given the opportunity on behalf of the officers to seek a protective order,” Rains stated on Monday. “Plus, the release by the DA’s Office when they told me, the judge told me to tell Chief Assistant DA Simon O’Connell to not release the report until I had the opportunity to be heard. We tried to set up dates with the defense attorneys on Monday, after the morning appearance I made. Then I received an email from O’Connell on Tuesday that the judge ordered the report released. I feel betrayed by both the judge and by the DA’s Office.”
“I’m exploring the damages done to the officers due to the actions by the DA’s Office,” he added.