A race studies expert this month compared text messages among Antioch police about Black murder suspects to the racist animalization and encouragement of violence typical of lynchings going back to the era of slavery.
Claire Jean Kim, a University of California, Irvine professor of political science and Asian American Studies science who focuses on comparative race studies, testified in court on Sept. 15 in the case of four Black murder suspects challenging their arrests based on the arresting officers being among 10 Antioch and Pittsburg officers indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice in August for civil rights violations.
The hearing in Contra Costa County Superior Court in Martinez was the fourth in the challenge to California's Racial Justice Act.
Among the evidence in the case are chains of texts messages involving as many as 45 Antioch officers that frequently referred to Black suspects as the N-word, described violence against suspects, threatened Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe, who is Black, and referred to then-Police Chief Steven Ford -- who is also Black -- as a gorilla.
Attorneys for Terryonn Pugh, 22, Eric Windom, 23, Keyshawn McGee, 24, and 22-year-old Trent Allen, are challenging the arrests on the relatively new Racial Justice Act law, which allows suspects recourse if their arrest was based on race, ethnicity, or national origin.
The suspects, who are Black, are charged with two alleged gang-related murders in 2021 in Antioch. All four remain in custody and were present at the Sept. 15 hearing.
Kim based her testimony on four reports detailing the indictments and text messages, which included photos of Pugh's injured and naked buttocks, with the description "I shot him in the ass" with a 40mm non-lethal projectile.
She also referred to texts during which indicted Officer Eric Rombough admitted shooting one of the suspects "LOL - I 40'd him right next to his throat" and admitted to kicking Allen in the head.
She said Rombough sent officers -- including detectives and supervisors -- a photo of Allen shirtless in the hospital. He texted "I was trying to kick his head over the fence."
Officers also shared a photoshopped photo of George Floyd -- the man killed by Minneapolis police in 2020, causing civil unrest nationwide -- with a now-dead naked adult actor on top of him while he was being choked to death.
"This is a particularly disturbing and powerful photo," Kim said.
She said she saw police bias in direct language, photos of both animals and injured suspects, frequent use of the N-word (which Kim called "the atomic bomb of racial terms") and dehumanizing language.
Kim said she also saw frequent references to Black stereotypes, such as being lazy, oversexualized, homosexual, dirty, unintelligent, violent, and needing violence to be controlled -- all labels she said go back to slaves being considered chattel to be bought and sold like livestock.
In one exchange involving 24 officers, she found more than a dozen modifiers of the N-word, including "ungrateful (N-word), "body bag (N-word) "huckleberry (N-word)."
"The officers are not satisfied with just the N-word," Kim said. "They want to add on other adjectives to further denigrate."
She said she found a "call-and-response," cadence to the exchanges.
"The officers are bonding and partnering together in using the N-word," Kim said.
Kim said text chains involved supervisors and internal affairs officers "clearly undermines the argument that it's just a few bad apples."
Prosecutor Jordan Sanders declined to cross-examine Kim. The Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office has already conceded that racism was involved in the arrests.
The defense told Superior Court Judge David Goldstein they subpoenaed record keepers at the Antioch Police Department earlier in the week for information on the department's rules and procedures as well as records of officers' complaints against other officers. No one showed up from Antioch police on Sept. 15.
Goldstein set the next hearing in the matter for Sept 29.