Following raised voice rant by Mayor Thorpe Antioch Council approves directly hiring police chief on split vote

The City of Antioch’s new organizational structure following implementation of new ordinance expected on December 12.

“Do I want you to become a pseudo-police chief? No. You failed,” – Former Councilman Ralph Hernandez

“Residents like you have allowed the council to get away with murder, absolute murder, because of a lack of oversight,” – Mayor Lamar Thorpe to Hernandez, the main opponent of the change.

“I do not want the police department to become a political arm of the council. I would prefer a buffer.” – Councilman Mike Barbanica

By Allen D. Payton

During their meeting Tuesday, August 22, 2023, the Antioch City Council, on two split votes of 3-2, approved directly hiring and oversight of the police chief. During council discussion, an upset Mayor Lamar Thorpe accused past councils of allowing Antioch cops to get away with “absolute murder”. Mayor Pro Tem Tamisha Torres-Walker also falsely accused officers of murdering Angelo Quinto. A former councilman, speaking as the main opponent of the change, also accuses officers of three murders. Implementation of ordinance later delayed for 90 days. (See council meeting video)

Council Approves Direct Hire, Oversight of Police Chief

The council twice voted 3-2 to directly hire the police chief, and delayed implementation of the ordinance for 90 days so Acting City Manager Kwame Reed can complete the process of hiring an interim chief. District 2 Councilman Mike Barbanica and District 3 Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock opposed the change. Mayor Pro Tem Tamisha Torres-Walker proposed a time limit of possibly one year before the authority would revert back to the city manager which was supported by District 4 Councilwoman Monica Wilson. But that was not included in the motion the council adopted.

During the public hearing but before public comments, City Attorney Thomas L. Smith explained to the council that directly hiring would also include “supervision and performance evaluation of the chief of police. Another consideration would be the additional amount of work…and time allocated for it.”

The public comments allowed for one proponent and one opponent to each speak for 10 minutes,

“We have been brainwashed we need a lot of police,” Julia Emegokwae said as the main proponent. “They’ve had the green light to terrorize us.”

Mayor Lamar Thorpe interrupted her saying. “I want to remind you, Julia to stay on topic.”

She then spoke of officers “sitting there drinking coffee, eating donuts. They have no interest in us.”

“Julia, I’m just going to remind you again this item is about changing the reporting structure,” Thorpe interrupted her, again.

“Yes. Yes. This is related to it,” she responded and continued speaking.

Ogorchock made a point of order saying, “she’s off topic, Mr. Mayor. You’ve told her twice.”

“We want that funding to go more into safety net programs,”

Mayor Lamar Thorpe interrupted her saying. “I want to remind you, Julia to stay on topic.”

“We want that funding to go more into safety net programs,” Emegokwae continued. “I applaud the city that’s going to have more control of APD.”

Former Antioch Councilman Ralph Hernandez, the main opponent, said, “With the exception of Councilman Barbanica, I don’t think any of you are qualified to discipline and run the department. You need to have some kind of law enforcement background. The city manager, generally…would have more of it than you have. You guys have said you’re too busy and need secretaries to help you. Now, you’re wanting to add more responsibilities to your duties.”

“What you need to do is put it to a vote of the public,” Hernandez continued. “I met with you in June 2020 at your home and Monica Wilson was on speakerphone. I told you about…a group of six officers…and the police chief who blew it off.”

“I asked to meet with you in closed session…to enlighten you. It never came to pass,” he continued. “This was when you were a councilman before you became mayor. Monica you were a councilperson.”

“I need you to stay on topic,” Thorpe said interrupting Hernandez.

“In your packet, the duties of the police chief…that includes looking out for our community, safety. It is part of what we’re here to discuss,” Hernandez responded. “Your history already shows you did not do anything about those things that were affecting our community. So, do I want you to become a pseudo-police chief? No. You failed. I came before you with crimes, felony crimes that were committed. What did you guys do? Now, you want to become a substitute police chief, effectively? No. You can’t do it.”

“Do any of you have law enforcement backgrounds? You don’t. In the newspapers, in your press conferences, I haven’t heard you say, ‘you know Ralph Hernandez came here and told us about this sh*t,'” he continued.

Hernandez then spoke of the residents who Antioch officers are accused of violating their rights and said he read in the media, “Black, Black, Black” and mentioned someone of a different ethnicity that officers are accused of harming.

People in the audience started calling out.

“Hold on, we’re not doing this,” Thorpe said to stop it. “Mr. Hernandez, please finish your last minute-and-a-half.”

“In the meantime, you have failed,” Hernandez continued. “I want you to look inside yourself and ask, ‘have we done the right job?’”

“You’re still missing the two reported murders of our citizens of Antioch and a reported third by Antioch officers where they hid the body. I don’t know why you didn’t want to hear from me. I have the background…the professional training. The City Manager as you currently have it is the appropriate avenue.”

Thorpe responded by saying, “What he was asking was for us to do something illegal. Going into the closed session to discuss personnel matters is against the law. I do believe you filed that with the District Attorney’s Office. We’re not investigators up here.” However, the mayor was incorrect as it is in closed session when personnel matters are discussed. But they have no authority to hire, discipline or fire any city employee other than the city manager, city attorney and soon, the police chief.

All but one of the other speakers supported the change but with caveats.

“I don’t have faith in our council, as a whole to do the job. I don’t necessarily trust a former cop (referring to Barbanica). I do believe it should be your job as the head of Antioch,” said one woman while looking at the mayor.

“You guys represent us and our voices. The council, the mayor and the city manager should decide,” another woman said.

“I think the city manager should be included in the oversight of this,” said another speaker. “Some people back the blue. They could have a bias.”

Resident Tikki Flow said, “I agree with transferring the job to the city council. For 150 years nothing has changed. I’m for reimagining things. The city council is supposed to represent the people. If it’s added more work, then…they must feel they can do the job. I feel like you guys are well qualified.”

Robert Collins spoke next saying, “Angelo Quinto called me ‘dad’. We’ve had a police department with no accountability. To have the police chief only being accountable to the city council…I don’t know if that’s the right approach. If you can’t do a commission, then you should take on that role. We do know the previous structure did not work.”

The only member of the public who spoke against the change was David George who said, “I’m very disappointed in the way you’ve run this city. I think you’ve had a big hand in the problems, here. I don’t think you’re qualified.”

Lisa Elekwachi then said, “I don’t understand why the chief needs all of you as his boss. We don’t need a whole crew of people. Honestly, I think you should be his boss, the mayor. A lot of these problems with the police department stem from upper management. Hiring the best is what’s important.”

“If we can get it right, I would love for you to be in charge of the police chief,” she continued while looking at Thorpe. “You have a political career in front of you. We can hold you accountable at the state level, too. Who we hire should not be involved in cronyism.”

“Hiring a police chief is a heavy responsibility and involves a lot,” said resident Andrew Becker. “Resources start with our first responders. I think there’s a variety of ways the council can go about this. You should be unique that works for the community. The council majority can…put out an application. But you can have retired chiefs…community members to sit on that panel. They can be a part of the selection process. It’s about bringing those voices together. Looking at old processes I don’t think work for our community. I encourage the council to be diverse in that selection process. That single individual will be paramount for that department. That reporting…obviously will involve the city manager. The council does need to be a part of that decision. We do have to appreciate that we do have that diversity. If we just have noise on one side that’s not a conversation. I do hope we can bring in regional experts.”

Mayor Lamar Thorpe points at a member of the audience during his raised voice rant about changing the hiring and oversight of the police chief from the city manager to the council during the meeting on Tuesday, August. 22, 2023. Video screenshot

Thorpe Gets Heated During Council Discussion

Thorpe then said, “this is one of the reforms we initiated in 2021 after the death of Angelo Quinto. What we decided was an open process. We wanted public involvement in the process. We also wanted some level of accountability. It was becoming apparent to me the city manager’s role…is taking us for granted.”

He said people have been asking, “’You’re going to now run the police department?’ We provide oversight for all of our departments.”

“What has happened in our city…residents like them and city councils in the past have failed to provide oversight of the police department,” Thorpe continued as he raised his voice. (See 1:16:00 mark of council meeting video)

“Ralph Hernandez was a member of the city council. He failed to provide oversight of the Antioch Police Department because this was decades in the making,” he shouted, raising his voice louder. (Hernandez served on the city council from 1992 to 1995).

“Who was the mayor when you got beat up?” Thorpe asked a member of the audience. “Don Freitas was the mayor. He failed to provide oversight of the police department.” (Freitas was elected to the city council in 1998 and served as mayor from 2000-2008).

“So, you can come in here and point the finger all you want. I don’t give a damn,” Thorpe continued with a raised voice. “Because the residents of this community have demanded the change we’re making, here today if the council continues in this direction. Because for decades residents like you have allowed the council to get away with murder, absolute murder, in failure to provide oversight.”

“The city attorney said, ‘you either have a chief of police report directly to you or report to the city manager’,” he stated. “There’s no hybrid process. This is the option that we have.”

“We have done little talking about gun violence in this community,” Torres-Walker stated, speaking next. “We can’t fool ourselves about violence and harm in our community. So, no matter what direction this council takes on this item, tonight it’s important we come together. Reform can continue but it shouldn’t continue the way it has in the past.”

“I’m for governmental destruction. It hasn’t worked, mainly for colored people in the past,” she continued. “We have to do things radically. It is the council’s responsibility when a police department harms the community. In their duty to protect public safety they actually put public safety in jeopardy.”

“I’m a governmental radically deconstructionist,” Torres-Walker stated.

“I want to thank Mr. Hernandez for making my mind up for me,” she said. “He asked, ‘who has been held accountable…in the past? Nobody.’ We have had council members who sit here and have acknowledged they did nothing. Crimes against the community have occurred under the current structure. So, what would you have us do?”

“If the council decides to move forward…is there a way to modify this recommendation to a term?” Torres-Walker asked the city attorney.

“To a specified period of time? Would it lapse back to the municipal code?” he asked in response. “Yes. You could do something like that. You would have to put in a definite period of time.”

“Like until a permanent city manager is hired?” she asked. “Could it be for a term of 12 months?”

“Yes. You would effectively be defining the powers of the acting city manager,” Smith responded. “When the time period lapses it could fall back to the municipal code. Both would be triggering affects.”

“I do want to recruit the strongest city manager we can…who is strong enough to manage the police chief,” Torres-Walker stated. “I would support this…if we can trigger it to go back to the city manager at some point.”

Barbanica spoke next saying, “My concern with this is I do not want the police department to become a political arm of the council. I would prefer a buffer. If we as council…have done a bad job in the past as far as holding people accountable, and I’m talking historically, then we need to change that.”

“I do not believe we should get into creating a political arm of the council. Should we hold officers accountable? Absolutely. Should we hold the police chief accountable? Absolutely,”

“I have to admit I was really on the fence on this because I could see both sides,” Wilson said. “What I’m really interested in is what I’ve heard from you the public. I am interested in creating a term. I know if this goes through it’s going to come back, not only for more council discussion but community. I’m not against. I just want to hear more so I can flush this out.”

“Just to be clear, I was not talking about not moving forward tonight,” said Torres-Walker. “I appreciate the process Oakland is going through. They’re going through a public process. We don’t need to slow this down. We’ve been going through a public process for the past 18 months since we found out Angelo Quinto was murdered in his family’s house.”

However, her statement is incorrect as it was reported by the county coroner’s that Quinto died three days later in the hospital from excited delirium due to the drugs in his system, while not in police custody. (See related article)

“I too have done a lot of research on this,” Ogorchock then stated. “I, too, do not want the police department to become a political arm. So, I’m not for this, tonight. I do believe the city manager should hire the police chief.”

Thorpe then explained, “The California League of Cities…this is where we get trained…in it’s resource guide it describes the relationship between the city council and the police department.”

“The police department exists within a political arena,” he said quoting the section.

“Listen, 2020 was about police reform. The previous mayor was running from the press because he didn’t want to answer questions about police officers,” Thorpe continued mentioning one officer by name, Lt. Michael Mellone.

“At the end of that process we got a new mayor,” he continued. “The city manager kept his job. The police chief kept his job. But there was no accountability for these officers that sparked these protests. We already have oversight of the police department.”

“The question is whether there should be a buffer…because of the actions of the police chief or the lack thereof,” Thorpe stated. “I am personally still for this because I am frustrated…we have been kept in the dark about the FBI investigation…and how many officers are actually on paid leave. Because there is a buffer between the police department and the elected body. I’m not for it.”

Torres-Walker then said, “I still agree with moving forward, tonight. But I still believe in checks and balances” and “returning authority to the city manager, as Mr. Hernandez properly stated.”

But she then made a motion to change the hiring, oversight and discipline of the police chief and that the chief serves at the pleasure of the city council without any time limit. It was seconded by Wilson.

“You can always come back and amend this ordinance,” City Attorney Smith said in response to a question by Torres-Walker.

The motion passed 3-2 with Barbanica and Ogorchock voting against.

“So, this will take place 30 days after its second reading. OK,” Thorpe then stated.

Council Majority Changes Motion to Delay Implementation for 90 Days

Following a break in the meeting, Thorpe then said, “I’d like to make a motion to reconsider our previous motion.”

Torres-Walker seconded the motion to reconsider.

“The city manager is in the process of hiring an interim chief. So, in that process, this would get in the way of that. I would ask you consider adding 90 days,” Thorpe stated.

“So, what we just did kind of negates what he’s doing?” Wilson asked.

“Mayor Thorpe is proposing the effective date be 90 days after the adoption,” Attorney Smith said.

“We’re looking at up to two, three months for a background check. I wanted to be respectful of his authority, now,” Thorpe responded.

Torres-Walker then made a new motion with the 90-day extension included.

Before the vote Barbanica stated, “I’m probably as shocked as you are that we are a week away from hiring an interim chief. I did not know that.”

The new motion passed, again on a 3-2 vote with Barbanica and Ogorchock voting against.

the attachments to this post:

Thorpe points during rant ACC082223

Antioch Council-Manager Form of Govt New diagram

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