SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – Ten current and former police officers with the Antioch and Pittsburg Police Departments in California have been accused of committing a slew of crimes involving multiple conspiracies and coverups.
Among the offenses, officers with the Antioch Police Department are accused of collecting “trophies” from crime scenes and displaying the mementos on a mantle, according to a grand jury indictment unsealed after an FBI raid.
The officers with Antioch and Pittsburg’s police departments were simultaneously arrested in a multi-state FBI raid Thursday, after a federal grand jury handed down four indictments stemming from an 18-month investigation into East Bay law enforcement. The officers were apprehended in Hawaii, Texas, and across the San Francisco Bay Area.
Three of the officers from Antioch — Eric Rombough, Morteza Amiri, and Devon Christopher Wenger — are charged with “a disturbing litany of civil rights violations,” U.S. Attorney Ismail Ramsey said.
“The defendants boasted about their illegal use of force. The officers had no interest in de-escalating to avoid violence,” Ramsey said. Officers collected “mementos … from their attacks on the people of Antioch,” he added.
The three officers inflicted excessive force against citizens, and covered up their brutal tactics by falsifying police reports and avoiding body-worn cameras, the allegations say. When a witness recorded cellphone video of a K-9 bite in 2021, a fourth officer, Timothy Manly Williams, grabbed the person’s cellphone and destroyed it, according to investigators.
Antioch police officers covered up their tracks for years, but the FBI said agents found ample evidence against them inside the officers’ private cellphones. The private cellphones contained racist, unethical, and homophobic text messages, court documents show.
Rombough, a member of APD’s SWAT team, shot suspects with less-lethal 40mm munitions excessively, and collected spent munitions for “the mantle,” the indictment states.
“Rombough collected the spent 40mm munitions following each deployment and, instead of disposing or processing them, kept them for himself. (He created) a trophy flag … in which the munitions were used among the stars and stripes to commemorate his 40mm deployments,” the indictment writes.
Rombough, a former professional soccer player, bragged to fellow officers about kicking the head of a young Black man like he was scoring a field goal, court documents show.
Amiri was an Antioch K-9 unit officer who excessively deployed his Belgian Malinois, named Purcy, and took photographs of victims’ dog bites. Amiri stored the gory, bloody photographs on his personal cellphone as trophies, and sent the photos to fellow officers, the indictment alleges.
On May 5, 2020, K-9 Purcy bit a man, identified as “X.B.,” before Rombough arrested him. Amiri used his private cellphone to send numerous photos and videos of X.B.’s dog bite injuries to other officers. The next day, Amiri wrote to Rombough, “Bro yesterday was sooooo fun,” and said X.B. was still in county jail. Rombough replied, “hopefully he dies.”
Between approximately March 2019 and November 2021, Amiri deployed Purcy to bite at least 28 people in and around Antioch, the indictment states. In early 2022, APD temporarily suspended Purcy and removed Amiri from its K-9 Unit.
Even in cases when suspects immediately and peacefully surrendered for arrest, Rombough shot suspects with 44mm munitions and Amiri deployed his K-9, according to the indictment. In their police reports, the officers untruthfully wrote that the suspects had resisted arrest, investigators said.
The indictment describes an incident on Oct. 8, 2020, during which Amiri sent a text message with a photograph of an unsheltered man, identified as “M.Z.” who stole his mail. Wenger responded with a text writing, “Let’s beat his f—ing a–. I’m serious bro, let’s beat that dudes a– after work.”
Amiri texted officers in reference to M.Z.: “I tracked him down and dragged him to the back of a car to ‘discuss’ the matter. Putting a pistol in someone’s mouth and telling them to stop stealing isn’t illegal … it’s an act of public service,” Amiri allegedly wrote.
The three officers allegedly encouraged each other to escalate violence when making arrests.
Wenger sent a text message to Amiri on Aug. 22, 2020, writing, “We need to get into something tonight bro!! Lets go 3 nights in a row dog bite!!! Let’s get (homophobic slur) something to stress out about lol.”
Just 20 minutes later, Amiri sent Wenger photographs of an arrested suspect’s injuries. “Hahaha,” Amiri captioned the graphic photo.
Wenger formerly served in the U.S. Army and was trained as a sniper, according to APD’s Facebook page. He was a deputy for the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office before he transferred to the Antioch Police Department in 2018.
Amiri was a Brentwood Police Department officer before he was hired in Antioch. Romgough was an Alameda County Sheriff’s Office deputy before he transferred to Antioch in 2019, according to APD’s Facebook page.
This week a federal grand jury in San Francisco charged Rombough, Amiri, and Wenger with conspiracy against rights, deprivation of rights under color of law, destruction of evidence, and falsification of records. (The complete federal indictment can be viewed at KRON’s website.)
If convicted of the charges filed against them, Rombough, Amiri, and Wenger could be sentenced to serve decades in prison.
Violating citizens’ civil rights under color of law is “absolutely unacceptable,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Tripp.
“Police officers promise to enforce laws for the protection of the public and to protect the rights of the accused,” Ramsey added. “That is the job.”
The other seven officers arrested during Thursday’s raid have been accused of fraud (concerning a college degree benefit program), dealing steroids and obstructing an investigation.