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Contra Costa supervisors fund hiring more attorneys to tackle Antioch police scandal

Contra Costa County supervisors have approved a $5.515 billion budget for fiscal year 2023-24, including more money for the district attorney’s and public defender’s offices to handle cases related to the Antioch police scandal.

“That’s a big deal — $2.2 million (a) year to review cases that may have been affected by racial bias,” board chair John Gioia said on Wednesday. “We recommended adding these 10 new attorney positions at the budget hearing in April, based on needs expressed by (public defender’s and DA’s offices). They are on top of the other budgeted positions.”

Each office will get money for five new attorneys. County officials have said there is a good chance dozens — if not hundreds or more — of previous convictions could be overturned in light of the alleged police misconduct. Those new hires — who represent the beginning of the scandal’s impact on Contra Costa County taxpayers — will work to sort out just how deep the problems at the Antioch Police Department run.

The Antioch Police Department is under investigation from the District Attorney’s Office, the FBI and the state attorney general’s office. Two local members of Congress have also asked the U.S. Department of Justice to open its own investigation.

Pittsburg police are also facing a county investigation into possible civil rights violations.

The county and FBI started an investigation more than a year ago of eight current and former Antioch officers for suspected crimes, including assault under color of authority, obstruction of justice, fraud and involvement in drug trafficking. As part of that investigation, it was later revealed that dozens of officers were sending or responding to racist, sexist or homophobic text messages and memes, some making light of violence on Black residents or talking about phony confessions.

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At least 45 Antioch officers — nearly half the department — have been identified as being involved in chains of racist and homophobic texts.

Some of the texts threatened violence against Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe, who is Black.

Given the texts, the attorneys will have to consider the 2020 Racial Justice Act, which prohibits the state from obtaining a criminal conviction if the judge, an attorney or any law enforcement officer involved in a case “exhibited bias or animus toward the defendant because of the defendant’s race, ethnicity, or national origin.”

In addition, the department is being sued by at least six people represented by Bay Area civil rights attorney John Burris for allegedly violating their civil rights. Burris is advocating for federal oversight of the department.

The Antioch City Council said last month it is pursuing audits of the police department’s hiring and promotion practices, its internal affairs department, and its equity practices and culture.

Supervisors also added about $850,000 per year in new Measure X sales tax funding to expand Stand Together Contra Costa, a program to provide legal defense to those at risk of deportation.

They also allocated $80,000 of one-time money for a county study on establishing a Black Wellness Center in the eastern part of Contra Costa County, along with satellite offices across the county. The center would be a place for Black residents to receive culturally responsive, community-defined services and resources.

Supervisors will return in the fall for updates on Measure X funds, including possible allocations of the remaining $4.67 million, said Adam Nguyen, county finance director.

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