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Officers in Bay Area police department are charged with civil rights violations as part of FBI investigation

By Taylor Romine, CNN

(CNN) — Three Antioch, California, police officers were charged with civil rights violations as part of an FBI investigation into officers in the Antioch and Pittsburg Police Departments, the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California announced in a news conference Thursday.

Morteza Amiri, Eric Rombough and Devon Wenger were charged with conspiracy against rights and deprivation of rights under color of law, and Amiri also faces an additional charge of falsification of records, according to a grand jury indictment filed Wednesday.

The indictment accuses the men of repeatedly using excessive force, particularly through dog bites and a 40mm less lethal launcher, taking pictures and videos for personal use and bragging about their actions to each other or other officers. The officers didn’t try to stop or report the uses of force and would try to conceal their actions by writing false statements in police reports.

“As a further part of the scheme, Defendants deployed uses of force as ‘punishment’ to subjects beyond any punishment appropriately imposed by the criminal justice system, and/or made repeated reference to or suggestion of ‘violating civil rights’, including in the communications identified in this Indictment,” the indictment says.

During an arrest on December 19, 2019, Amiri took pictures of dog bites on someone they arrested and texted, “I’m gonna take more gory pics. gory pics are for personal stuff. cleaned up pics for the case,” the indictment says.

During an arrest the next day, Amiri bragged to an unnamed officer about dog bites inflicted on someone being arrested, saying that even if the arrested person didn’t stay in jail that at least he was punished, the indictment says.

“i (sic) feel like this is the real punishment compared to the soft DA,” Amiri said in a text shared in the indictment. Several other examples in the indictment show pictures and video Amiri sent to individual officers or people in a group chat.

The indictment says Rombough had a history of using a 40mm less lethal launcher, to the point Amiri said in a text to an unidentified officer that “rombough be doing some unnecessary a** 40s,” referencing the launcher. When an unnamed officer texted Rombough in November 2020 asking what the officers were up to, he responded “Violating civil rights,” the indictment says.

One incident was shared in the indictment where Wenger responded to reports of a stolen vehicle and struck the suspect with a 40mm less lethal launcher in the chest while the suspect had their hands up, the indictment says.

In addition to the uses of force, the indictment also shares a conversation where Rombough and Amiri referenced to people as gorillas, as well as other messages between officers where they threaten to hurt people, the indictment shows.

The indictment against the three officers was one of four indictments filed Wednesday against former and current police officers in the Antioch Police Department and the neighboring Pittsburg Police Department.

In addition to the civil rights charges, Wenger is accused of conspiracy to distribute and possession of anabolic steroids in a second grand jury indictment. Amiri is also one of six officers accused of defrauding the police department they worked for by getting others to complete college credits on their behalf so they could be reimbursed and get increases in pay, a third indictment shows.

Another Antioch Police Department officer was charged in a fourth indictment involving alleged interference with a wiretap investigation and illegal seizure and destruction of a telephone.

CNN attempted to reach out to Amiri, Rombough and Wenger for comment. It is not immediately clear who their attorneys are.

Amiri was removed from the K-9 unit in early 2022, the indictment says, and Rombough resigned from the Gang Unit and SWAT team. The indictment does not say if Wenger resigned from his role.

In a statement released on Antioch Police Department’s Facebook page, Acting Chief of Police Joe Vigil said the arrests of Antioch officers “is disheartening and undermines the incredible work our staff does on a daily basis.”

“Any police officer who breaks public trust must be held accountable, especially because our effectiveness relies heavily on confidence and support from our community,” the statement says. “No individual – including a police officer – is above the law.”

CNN has reached out to the Pittsburg Police Department for comment on the charges.

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