Constituent policy

Antioch Police Chief Announces ‘Top-Down’ Assessment of K9 Policy in Response to FBI’s Criminal Investigation of His Officers

ANTIOCH — This city’s acting police chief said Tuesday he was conducting a “top-down” assessment of the department’s use of police dogs, days after this news agency reported that an officer K9 officer whose dog has bitten 22 people over the past three years is one of nearly a dozen East Contra Costa officers under federal investigation.

At a press conference at City Hall, Acting Chief Steven Ford named two significant reform proposals: Implementing an “early intervention system to better track and monitor” the use of police dogs in Antioch and ensure that cell phones issued by the department are “used exclusively for business purposes”. .”

“This will allow the organization to identify potential patterns and, more importantly, develop corrective actions if needed,” Ford said.

The inside look at how ODA deploys the department’s K9s signals an important step in reforming a police department that critics and civil rights advocates say has long resisted change and discipline by officers. It comes as a federal grand jury continues to investigate 11 East Contra Costa officers – eight from Antioch and three from Pittsburgh – for alleged crimes of moral turpitude, including potential civil rights violations in the use of force. A major component of the FBI-led criminal investigation is the use of police dogs, which in Antioch have bitten at least 49 people since 2019, according to multiple law enforcement sources.

Multiple law enforcement sources told this news agency that federal agents seized the phones of more than one officer during the criminal investigation, which was publicly announced last March.

The sources said Constable Morteza Amiri, a K9 officer whose dog, Purcy, bit 22 people in a three-year period from March 2019, has by far the highest number of bites in the world. seven city police dogs, the sources said. to discs published by the city. Amiri used his metal flashlight and fists to strike several residents, including a 17-year-old boy, in the face or head, while Purcy bit the subjects, according to department records.

A second K9 officer, Nicholas Shipilov, has also been placed on administrative leave while the investigation is ongoing, although authorities have not said why he is being investigated. Multiple sources identified Shipilov as the first subject of the federal investigation on Tuesday.

Shipilov was one of four officers involved in the December 2020 death of Angelo Quinto. The 30-year-old lost consciousness after being restrained by police during a mental health call at his family’s home. Last week, the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office formally declined to charge any of the officers involved in Quinto’s death, a decision that is currently under review by the state attorney general. Quinto’s family has filed a federal lawsuit against the officers and the department.

City councilors Monica Wilson and Tamisha Torres-Walker threw their support behind Ford at the press conference and said they would implement legislation to back the proposed reforms if necessary.

ANTIOCH, CA – SEPTEMBER 13: Antioch Police Chief Steven Ford, left, attends a press conference with City Councilwoman Monica Wilson, right, to discuss police department reforms on Tuesday, the 13 September 2022, in Antioch, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

“By establishing strong accountability within the Antioch Police Department, we can move closer to our goal of truly working in partnership with our community because we need to build trust,” Wilson said.

Torres-Walker’s appearance at a press conference alongside the city’s police chief is somewhat unexpected as she has been one of the most vocal critics of policing in city government since her election in November 2020. Last year, she was charged with a misdemeanor count of obstructionists, including Shipilov, who responded to a call for a shooting in her neighborhood. That charge was dismissed in August, a month after misdemeanor police escape charges were dismissed against her two sons, ages 15 and 25, in an unrelated incident that Torres-Walker said was harassment policeman.

After Ford’s remarks, Torres-Walker dropped a bombshell, publicly claiming that Officers Andrea Rodiguez and Calvin Prieto were two of the officers under criminal investigation. Both officers were present when Torres-Walker’s sons were arrested and later sued her in state superior court, alleging she defamed them and created a hostile work environment with live video on profanity Facebook that criticized the arrest.

Torres-Walker added that Rodriguez, Prieto and Shipilov “all deserve a fair and impartial process” and called on the Contra Costa District Attorney to release the names of all officers under investigation. Ford, who knows the names and was standing a few feet away from Torres-Walker as he spoke, declined to comment on the ongoing criminal investigation. Likewise, the FBI, the Contra Costa DA and the US Attorney’s Office have all refused to release the names of the agents until the investigation is complete.

ANTIOCH, CA - SEPTEMBER 13: Antioch City Council Member Tamisha Torres-Walker, left, Police Chief Steven Ford, center, and Council Member Monica E. Wilson, right, take part in a press conference for discuss police department reforms on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022, in Antioch, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)
ANTIOCH, CA – SEPTEMBER 13: Antioch City Council Member Tamisha Torres-Walker, left, Police Chief Steven Ford, center, and council member Monica E. Wilson, right, participate in a press conference to discuss police department reforms on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022, in Antioch, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

So far, multiple law enforcement sources have confirmed that a federal grand jury is subpoenaing witnesses and may decide whether or not to file a criminal indictment by the end of the year. The sources named Amiri, Shipilov and Eric Rombough, a patrol officer, as three of eight Antioch officers on leave while the investigation is ongoing. Rombough was one of four officers who shot and killed a 57-year-old man in a gunfight last year after the suspect allegedly fired a rifle at police.

Amiri, a former Brentwood police officer who joined the APD in 2017, is at the center of the investigation, sources say. More than any other Antioch officer, Amiri appears in recent use-of-force cases his own department released under SB 1421, the 2018 state law requiring police departments to produce records of investigations related to the use of force that caused serious bodily harm or death. Between 2017 and 2021, there are nine cases involving Antiochian police dogs that resulted in serious bodily harm, records show. Four of those cases involved Amiri and Purcy.

Records show no evidence that Amiri was ever disciplined for use of force, and an internal memo praises Amiri for sending Purcy out the driver’s side window of a vehicle to bite a driver suspected of stealing a vehicle during a traffic stop in April 2020. The memo said the situation could have escalated into a police shootout and that Purcy’s use was in line with policy.

Antioch police officers Morteza Amiri, left, and Eric Rombough, right, are two of 11 law enforcement officials on leave linked to an investigation by the FBI and the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office, multiple sources say sources.  (Credit: Antioch Police Department)
Antioch police officers Morteza Amiri, left, and Eric Rombough, right, are two of 11 law enforcement officials on leave linked to an investigation by the FBI and the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office, multiple sources say sources. (Credit: Antioch Police Department)

Amiri’s lawyer, Michael Rains, told this newspaper that the Antioch police were thoroughly investigating the allegations of use of force and excessive force and that his client, Amiri, had not violated the policies or been fired from the K-9 unit until the federal investigation begins. .

Civil rights attorney John Burris, in a lawsuit filed on behalf of the Quinto family, said Antioch police officials “are aware of repeated acts of misconduct.” He cited five recent cases of what he considered excessive force used by Antioch officers, including two cases of dog bites.

“To (our) knowledge, no change in policy has taken place after officers used excessive force in any of the above cases, and officers in these cases have become unruly,” Burris wrote in the trial. “Five incidents over the span of a decade demonstrate a practice or custom of excessive use of force by Antioch City police officers. It further indicates that Antioch City police officers did not not been trained in the appropriate and reasonable use of force in a given circumstance.”