The FBI has arrested 10 officers connected to an 18-month investigation into two Bay area police departments. During the investigation, FBI agents say they found a “Pandora’s box” full of unethical and criminal behavior perpetrated by officers hired to serve the community.
Over 100 FBI agents were deployed to make the arrests on Thursday, Aug. 17, in three different states, Hawaii, Texas, and Northern California. Targeted in the raid were both active duty and former officers with the Antioch and Pittsburg police departments.
On August 17, 2023, a federal grand jury in San Francisco issued four separate indictments. These indictments collectively accuse ten present and former officers and staff members of the Antioch and Pittsburg police departments of a range of crimes.
Allegations against the officers included using excessive force while policing and also participating in an effort to defraud their employers, according to the Department of Justice.
Ironically, the widespread investigation started as a look into a group of cops who were accused of cheating on college tests to get scores that could help them get higher salaries.
“Police officers promise to enforce laws for the protection of the public and to protect the rights of the accused. That is the job,” United States Attorney Ismail J. Ramsey said before adding the officers within the indictments seemed to have “violated this oath.”
FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert K. Tripp said this case has been “one of the highest priorities” of the San Francisco Field Office.
The first indictment involved law enforcement officers Patrick James Berhan, Morteza Amiri, Amanda Carmella Theodosy, Samantha Peterson, Ernesto Juan Mejia-Orozco, and Brauli Rodriguez Jalapa, who were indicted on charges defrauding their department and plotting a college credit scheme to boost their earnings.
DOJ also claims that in 2019 former Pittsburg Police Officer Berhan had someone else take several college courses on his behalf, leading to his getting a criminal justice bachelor’s degree. After he obtained his degree, he told five others about his hookup and recommended the person who cheated for him, the indictment says.
The second indictment dealt with steroid drug dealing. Daniel James Harris and Devon Christopher Wenger, both from the Antioch Police Department, were charged with conspiracy to distribute anabolic steroids, possession with intent to distribute steroids, and destroying evidence.
According to the DOJ, “Harris possessed and attempted to possess the drugs, and Wenger attempted to delete evidence of the scheme from his cellular phone prior to handing the phone over to law enforcement officers.”
On May 6, 2021, at a crime scene, Williams witnessed an officer deploying a police dog for an arrest. Williams noticed a witness recording the K9 incident aftermath on a cellphone. The third indictment claims Williams confiscated and destroyed the phone. It also invokes another case where Williams allegedly warned a wiretap target.
The final indictment looks at three Antioch police officers, Morteza Amiri, Eric Rombough, and Devon Wenger, who deprived citizens of their rights under the color of law by engaging in “a disturbing litany of civil rights violations. The defendants boasted about their illegal use of force in text messages,” according to the US. Attorney.
In this 29-page indictment, the defendants are accused of discussing and employing excessive force in the city of Antioch. Examples of this included K9 and 40mm launcher use, as well as unwarranted violence, sometimes as “punishment,” which exceeded legal measures.
They also are accused of deliberately turning off their bodycams and “gathering trophies” from the scene. Most ominous was a collection of racist text messages exchanged between officers that were discovered and made public.
Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe was particularly outraged.
“I’m blown away that there were threats to my personal life in those text messages,” he said.
After the indictment, Thorpe said, “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 fourth indictment also cites references to violating victims’ civil rights dating from 2019 up to 2021.