Three Northern California police officers under investigation in a probe into racist and derogatory text messages were indicted on conspiracy charges alleging they “touted” their use of excessive force and collected “trophies,” court documents unsealed Thursday show.
Eric Rombough, Devon Wenger and Mortez Amiri have been accused of conspiring to “injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate” residents in Antioch, a city of roughly 114,000 people located 45 miles northeast of San Francisco, according to a 30-page indictment filed in federal court in California’s Northern District.
The three are among 14 Antioch Police Department officers who allegedly sent a raft of derogatory messages that were released earlier this year, according to an investigative report compiled by the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office.
In a separate criminal case unsealed Thursday, Wenger and another Antioch officer were accused of conspiracy to distribute steroids, destroying, altering and falsifying federal records, and other crimes.
Amiri was charged in two separate cases also unsealed Thursday alleging six counts of wire fraud related to a higher education fraud scheme.
The six defendants named in that case, some of whom work for the police department in the nearby city of Pittsburg, allegedly faked course work at a Southern California university in exchange for reimbursements, pay raises and bumps in benefits, according to the indictment.
In the excessive force case, Amiri — a former K-9 officer — deployed his dog Purcy to bite at least 28 people between 2019 and 2021, the indictment alleges.
Amiri captured photos and videos of dog bite injuries on his personal cellphone and shared them with officers and others, saying in one 2019 text that the “gory pics are for personal stuff,” according to the indictment.
In some cases, he texted Wenger and Rombough — who worked for the department’s SWAT and gang units — how many times Purcy had bit someone: “#4 on fire rn…lol,” the indictment alleges.
In another instance in 2019, Wenger texted the other two officers, asking them to find a suspect who “ran,” according to the indictment.
When Wenger asked them to do something vulgar to the suspect, Rombough responded: “Deal.”
In a 2020 text, Wenger told Amiri that they needed to “go 3 nights in a row dog bite!!!” Amiri emphasized the message, according to the indictment, and Wenger replied with a homophobic slur about a senior officer, saying they should give the lieutenant “something to stress out about lol.”
In another text that year, Amiri sent Wenger eight graphic images of people with dog bites and described the work week as “very eventful,” according to the indictment.
“Hahahah…YEAH BRO,” Wenger responded, using an expletive.
Amiri, who started working for the department in 2017, was suspended from the K-9 unit in early 2022, the indictment says.
Rombough, who also served in the department’s “problem-oriented policing” unit, shot at least 11 people with a less-lethal weapon in less than a year, according to the indictment.
He collected the spent munitions from the weapon, telling others he was keeping them for “the mantle” and creating a trophy “flag” to commemorate his deployments, the indictment says.
He resigned from the gang and SWAT units in early 2022, according to the indictment.
Lawyers for Rombough and Amiri did not immediately respond to requests for comment. It wasn’t immediately clear if Wenger has a lawyer to speak on his behalf.
Efforts to reach Rombough and Amiri were unsuccessful. A message left on a phone number listed under Wenger’s name was not immediately returned.
In a statement, acting Antioch Police Chief Joe Vigil called the allegations “disheartening” and said that “any police officer who breaks public trust must be held accountable.”
“From the beginning of this investigation, our administration has been fully cooperating with these agencies, and will continue to do so,” he said. “No individual — including a police officer — is above the law.”
The Pittsburg Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.
In a statement, Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe described Thursday as a “dark day in our city’s history, as people trusted to uphold the law” allegedly breached that trust.
“As our city absorbs this tragic news, we must come together as one,” he said. “Today’s actions are the beginning of the end of a long and arduous process.”
Federal authorities investigating the criminal allegations uncovered the racist and derogatory text messages that dozens of officers in Antioch are alleged to have sent or received in 2020 and 2021.
A judge earlier this year released the investigative report compiled by the prosecutor’s office that included the partly redacted messages after a joint FBI and local investigation into the city’s police department.
In one message, Rombough allegedly used an expletive and texted another officer: “I’m only stopping them cuz they black.” In another message, Rombough allegedly texted a sergeant a picture of a suspect in a hospital bed and said it was the man’s fault that he got “6 muzzle thumps and me trying to kick his head over the fence.”
Amiri allegedly sent a text saying that because his agency does not record interviews on video, “I sometimes just say people gave me a full confession when they didn’t.”
“Gets filed easier,” Amiri said, according to the report.