Antioch Police Department mired in racism allegations — first in text messages, now in a brutality lawsuit

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Community members listen to speakers during a rally at Antioch police headquarters in Antioch, Calif., on Tuesday, April 18, 2023. The city council of a small San Francisco Bay Area city voted Tuesday to launch three audits of its troubled Antioch Police Department, the latest development in a year-long federal investigation of the police force that blew up this month with the disclosure of racist text messages among officers. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group via AP)
Community members listen to speakers during a rally at Antioch police headquarters on April 18. (Jane Tyska / Associated Press)

After recent revelations of racist text messages involving more than a dozen of its officers, the Antioch Police Department is now the subject of a lawsuit alleging race-based brutality.

Plaintiffs Juan Laspada and Rebecca Rodriguez accuse a group of unnamed officers of excessive use of force and racial profiling in a lawsuit filed last week against the city of Antioch and the officers, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit alleges that on Feb. 25, 2022, Laspada and his fianceé, Rodriguez, were awaiting an Uber vehicle outside a friend's residence when police confronted them.

Without informing Laspada that he was being detained or arrested, the complaint alleges, officers "threw him to ground, placed him in a prone position on his stomach, and began to punch the plaintiff several times in his face, body and ear area and issuing knee strikes to the plaintiff’s body."

A video of the encounter posted on Twitter shows a scuffle on the sidewalk, with an officer pushing Rodriguez to the ground and then punching Laspada, who is being restrained on the ground.

Officers then allegedly searched Laspada's bag before handcuffing the couple. Laspada was then transported to a hospital, while Rordiguez was taken to the police station. Both were ultimately released without any charges filed against them.

The complaint alleges that the couple, "who are both Latinx, were racially profiled, leading to their unlawful detention and arrest."

The suit claims that their 4th Amendment rights — those prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures — were infringed upon, as well as 14th Amendment rights protecting against racial discrimination.

In support of the discrimination claim, the lawsuit details the racist texting scandal that has recently engulfed the city police department, which is the subject of an investigation by the Contra Costa County district attorney’s office and the FBI. A report released earlier this month details 14 officers’ communications that include 12 messages likening Black people to gorillas as well as dozens of instances of the N-word.

Mayor Lamar Thorpe, who is Black, was also the target of racist threats in the texts, which were first reported by the Mercury News and then Contra Costa News. Antioch’s population is about 24% Black, according to 2020 census data.

It is unclear whether the officers involved in the brutality case, still unnamed, were also implicated in the investigation into the racist messages.

Those texts caused an uproar in Antioch, leading to a raucous City Council meeting in which Thorpe engaged in a heated exchange with a commenter whom he accused of using "dog whistle" racist language.

At a subsequent meeting, the City Council voted unanimously to audit the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit, its hiring and promotional practices, and the existing culture inside the department.

An unknown number of cases that relied on testimony by the officers involved in the texting scandal may also be up for review and possible dismissal or re-sentencing.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.