SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — The hammer finally dropped on nine Bay Area law enforcement officers who were arrested by FBI agents Thursday morning in connection to an 18-month investigation.
The FBI’s raid targeted current and former Antioch and Pittsburg police department officers. More than 100 FBI agents were deployed to make the arrests. They apprehended the officers in Hawaii, Texas, and across the San Francisco Bay Area.
Nine of the accused officers are currently in custody with no bail. A 10th officer’s arrest is still pending.
A sweeping investigation began in early 2022 as a narrow probe into officers who allegedly cheated on college tests to obtain salary raises. FBI agents dug into the cheating scandal and opened a “Pandora’s Box” of unethical and criminal behavior among officers, a source told KRON4.
Thursday’s FBI arrest operation raid was given a green light after a federal grand jury handed down four indictments charging 10 police officers with a wide range of crimes.
Grand Jury’s Indictments
- Indictment 1: College Degree Benefits Fraud
Six officers “claimed they earned college credits toward degrees, when in fact, they hired people to take classes and exams for them,” U.S. Attorney Ismail Ramsey said. The officers conspired to defraud their own police departments, without putting in work attending classes, Ramsey said.
Officers charged in the first indictment were identified as: Patrick James Berhan, Morteza Amiri, Amanda Carmella Theodosy, Samantha Peterson, Ernesto Juan Mejia-Orozco, and Brauli Rodriguez Jalapa. They were charged with wire fraud and conspiracy for allegedly receiving pay raises through the college credits scheme.
Beginning in 2019, then-Pittsburg Police Officer Berhan utilized a person to complete multiple college courses for him, according to investigators. The courses helped Berhan complete a B.S. degree in Criminal Justice, and bump up his salary at the Pittsburg Police Department. Five more officers joined the scheme after Berhan touted the person’s college “services” for fraudulent coursework, investigators said.
- Indictment 2: Steroid drug dealing
Two Antioch police officers charged in the second indictment were identified as: Daniel James Harris and Devon Christopher Wenger. The duo was charged with conspiracy to distribute anabolic steroids, possession with intent to distribute steroids, and destroying evidence.
- Indictment 3: Obstruction of a Federal Investigation
One Antioch police officer, Timothy Allen Manly Williams, was charged with destruction of evidence, obstruction, falsification of records, and deprivation of rights under color of law.
On May 6, 2021, Williams was at a crime scene when another officer deployed a police dog to make a arrest. Williams spotted a witness who used a cellphone to record video of the K9 incident’s aftermath. The indictment alleges that Williams seized the witness’ phone and destroyed it. In a separate incident, Williams is accused of tipping off the target of a wiretap.
- Indictment 4: Deprivation of Rights
Three Antioch police officers allegedly committed “a disturbing litany of civil rights violations. The defendants boasted about their illegal use of force in text messages,” Ramsey said.
The officers are accused of collecting trophies from shooting scenes, writing racist text messages, excessively deploying K9 units to attack suspects, using a 40mm launchers as “punishment,” and intentionally leaving their body-worn cameras off.
“The officers had no interest in de-escalating to avoid violence. They collected as mementos spent ammunition from their attacks on the people of Antioch. They tried to escape scrutiny by failing to submit truthful reports or use their body-worn cameras. The damage done to public trust cannot easily be calculated,” Ramsey said.
Three Antioch police officers charged in the fourth indictment were identified as: Eric Allen Rombough, Morteza Amiri, and Devon Christopher Wenger. The trio was charged with conspiracy against rights, deprivation of rights under color of law, destruction of evidence, and falsification of records.
Officer Eric Rombough, who played soccer professionally before joining APD, bragged about how hard he kicked a young Black man in the head, court records containing the text messages show. Rombough wrote in one text, “He got his a** whooped in the back yard and I field goal kicked his head. I tried to knock him unconscious.”
In another text message from 2022, Rombough wrote, “Bottom line it doesn’t matter some gorilla killed another gorilla.”
On July 24, 2019, Amiri pulled over a bicyclist, identified in the indictment as “A.A.,” for failing to have lights on the bike after dark. Amiri, who is a K9 unit officer, deployed his dog named Purcy.
“Amiri punched him multiple times. K9 Purcy then bit A.A. in the arm, injuring him. Amiri then shared pictures of the victim’s wounds with other Antioch police officers who exchanged text messages including, ‘Yeah buddy good boy pursy.’ In response to a question from another officer about what cut the dog’s face, Amiri responded, ‘that’s a piece of the suspect’s flesh lol,'” investigators wrote.
‘No One Is Above The Law’
Ramsey and FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Tripp held a news conference at the federal courthouse in San Francisco Thursday and fielded questions from reporters.
Tripp said the arrests were the results of two years of “painstaking and methodical investigative work by the FBI and United States Attorneys Office. This case is one of the highest priorities for the San Francisco Field Office.”
Sworn police officers are dedicated to uploading the law, Tripp said. “Any breach of the public’s trust is absolutely unacceptable. Law enforcement officers bear a tremendous responsibility to police our communities lawfully,” Tripp said.
Federal investigators said they uncovered evidence exposing law enforcers as law breakers. “No one is above the law,” Tripp said.
When the FBI seized Antioch police officers’ professional and private cellphones, agents found chains of text messages exchanged between as many as 45 Antioch officers.
The texts contained racial slurs and described violence officers inflicted against suspects, court records show. The N-word and terms describing Black suspects as “gorillas,” “monkeys,” and circus animals were used in text messages written and received by officers and APD supervisors.
‘A Dark Day’ For Antioch
Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe told KRON4 that Thursday was “a dark day in our city’s history.”
Thorpe stated, “People trusted to uphold the law allegedly breached that trust and were arrested by the FBI. Today’s actions are the beginning of the end of a long and arduous process. Today’s arrests are demonstrative of the issues that have plagued the Antioch Police Department for decades.”
The officers’ texts also described now-retired Police Chief Steven Ford in racially derogatory terms and contained threatening language aimed at Mayor Thorpe. Ford and Thorpe are Black.
Mayor Thorpe said critics accused him of being “anti-police” while the federal investigation was underway. “Seeking to reform the Antioch Police Department is not anti-police, it is pro our residents, and pro officers that have served and continue to serve with honor,” the mayor told KRON4.
As many as 45 of Antioch’s approximately 100 officers were placed on leave because of racist, homophobic, and disturbing text chains.
The scandal has already impacted the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s ability to move forward with cases that relied on Antioch police officers. Dozens of cases were dropped in 2022 and 2023 because officers suspected of “moral turpitude” could not be trusted, according to prosecutors.
In April, Police Chief Ford wrote, “I would like to thank the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office and Federal Bureau of Investigation for their work in helping us identify the sickening disease of racism and other incompatible behaviors within our ranks.” Ford retired and stepped away from the APD on August 11.
Acting Antioch Police Chief Joe Vigil released a statement Thursday. Vigil wrote, “Today’s announcement reporting the arrest of current and former APD officers is disheartening. Any police officer who breaks public trust must be held accountable, especially because our effectiveness relies heavily on confidence and support from our community.”