Antioch Police Officers’ Association suing City to obtain Mayor Thorpe’s phone records

APOA attorney says City claims there aren’t any; council will address lawsuit during tonight’s closed session Tuesday

Thorpe claims he doesn’t use personal cell phone for city business; issues statement calling lawsuit “intimidation tactics”

Attorney says during five months of the text scandal investigation only 5 or 6 cops on leave of the 15 or 16 his office represents have been interviewed

“So, they’re just sitting there earning money because of the disfunction of the City leaders” – Mike Rains, APOA attorney

By Allen D. Payton

During their meeting tonight, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, the Antioch City Council will address in closed session a lawsuit by the Antioch Police Officers’ Association (APOA). Asked about reasons for the lawsuit the APOA’s attorney, Mike Rains, said it’s to obtain Mayor Lamar Thorpe’s phone records because the City won’t provide them, claiming they couldn’t find any. The Public Records Act request covers the nine days prior to Thorpe’s Wednesday, March 30th press conference when he spoke about the investigation into the racist text scandal among Antioch officers. (See related article)

In that press conference, Thorpe read from prepared text saying, “Monday I received some information that has arisen from an ongoing investigation of the Antioch Police Department. Several additional officers have been placed on administrative leave. Let me be very clear I’m not here to confirm the number of officers that are involved nor am I here to confirm any rumors or speculations about the nature of what was discovered.”

Since that time, about 35 officers have been on leave, all paid until last month when three of the officers who have been charged with crimes by the Contra Costa DA’s Office, were placed on unpaid leave.

The lawsuit (Case number N23-1629 in Contra Costa Superior Court) is seeking “records reflecting telephone calls, emails, and text messages sent or received by City of Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe concerning the initiation of a non-criminal administrative investigation into allegations of misconduct by City of Antioch police officers concerning text or email messages allegedly containing graphic references to issues regarding race, ethnicity or national original, or sexual preference and/or sexual identification, which have become the subject of media scrutiny.”

“This started months ago,” Rains explained. “We sent a Public Records Act request to the City to get the records from the mayor’s phone, texts, emails and phone calls to others, from about March 21-30, the nine days before his March 30th news conference announcing that this investigation of the text messaging was going on. He couldn’t provide details. The chief had not given him any information at all. He claimed the city manager had briefed him. But the city manager didn’t know anything. So, where was he getting his information?”

“Larry Wallace from the DA’s office had put together his two reports on the texting and I believe Thorpe was getting his information from Wallace directly,” Rains stated. “I don’t know. But we have a right to know where he’s getting his information about public business. It’s a public record.”

“We asked for that information but the former assistant city attorney who quit during a meeting and just walked out, wrote us a letter asking for a extension, saying ‘we need to look at it,’” Rains shared. “Then we give her the extension then she sent us a letter claiming they didn’t have anything.”

“So, we asked how she had searched the mayor’s phone. We got crickets,” he continued. “Then we sent another letter asking for the same thing and threatened but they didn’t respond. So, we did. That’s what tomorrow is about.”

“They have to do a search according to state Supreme Court based on a case out of the City of San Jose, that had to do with records requests for council members private phones,” Rains said. “I have a feeling they never did the search. I’m sure the mayor has since tried to delete everything. That would probably cause us to get the phone and do a forensic analysis to get all the deleted messages.”

Text Scandal Investigation

Regarding the investigation of the officers on leave for the racist text scandal, Rains said, “The city’s lawyers who they’ve retained and another group that they’ve retained to do something else, they’re going through all kinds of law firms, including the few interviews of the cops on leave for the texts. They’ve only done about five or six interviews. They still have about seven or eight guys they need to interview, guys who shouldn’t be on leave at the request of the mayor and the city attorney, not with the support of Chief Ford.”

“We had all these interviews set up for 15 of the cops but at first, they said they were only going to do one interview,” he continued. “I think we’ve had three different investigators, now, that have done the five or six interviews. The first one from Los Angeles didn’t even show up. Then they hired the Hispanic lady. She was nice and did one or two interviews. Then they hired some guy who did a couple interviews.”

As previously reported, City Attorney Thomas L. Smith hired Cerritos, CA-based Angela Powell, a partner in the law firm of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo, to conduct the investigation of the text messages. She has 26 years’ experience as an attorney. Her services ended by Monday, May 15, the day the interviews of the officers were to begin. In her place, the City hired San Jose-based attorney Allison Hernandez, a Senior Associate with the law firm of Burke, Williams & Sorensen who earned her law degree in 2016.

Asked about Powell, Rains said, “She said she was going to be fair. She wasn’t going to let anyone tell her what to do. The next thing I know is we had another lady showing up to do the interviews. I think she didn’t find anything they could do.”

Asked about the other officers on leave Rains said, “I don’t know what they did with Rombough. We don’t represent him. I don’t know how many they think they still need to interview. We don’t represent all these guys. We represent somewhere around 15 or 16 cops on leave, who were mostly recipients of group texts. Of those they’ve only interviewed half in about five months.”

“So, they’re just sitting there earning money because of the disfunction of the City leaders,” he added.

Asked if there is any communication between his office and the investigators Rains stated, “No. The city attorney and the mayor have cut the investigators out of any communication with the department. Even Chief Ford couldn’t speak with them. Usually in the scheme of things, when outside investigators are hired, the chief coordinates it, working with staff setting up interviews. Ford wasn’t even in the picture.”

“All the attorneys have been brought in by the city attorney,” Rains continued. “So, the chief isn’t involved in any of it, and I think that includes the current, acting chief. He’s just sitting on the sidelines, too.”

Asked if he knows when the interviews and the investigation will conclude, Rains replied, “No idea.”

Questions for Thorpe, City Attorney

Questions were sent to both Thorpe and City Attorney Smith Monday night giving them until noon Tuesday to respond.

They were asked if Rains’ claims are true that the City won’t provide the records from the mayor’s personal phone from March 21-30 because they claim there aren’t any.

Thorpe was asked, if that is true, if he had deleted any phone calls, text or email messages on his phone from that period.

They were also asked if it’s not true, and there are records of phone calls, text and email messages from the mayor’s phone, why haven’t they been provided if they are a public record.

Thorpe was then asked if he has a city-issued phone that he uses for city business and if not, how does he communicate with members of the public and others regarding city-related business.

Finally, the mayor was asked if he received his information about the text scandal from anyone in the Contra Costa DA’s Office, including Larry Wallace.

Smith was then asked if only five or six of the 15 or 16 officers represented by Rains’ law firm have been interviewed by the outside investigators. He was also asked, “If so, why haven’t they all been interviewed yet in the five months since they’ve been placed on leave and when will they be interviewed?” If that’s not correct, how many of the 35 or so officers on leave have been interviewed during the investigation? Have the outside investigators been given a deadline for completing the interview and investigation and providing you and the city council with a final report?”

Thorpe Says He Doesn’t Use Personal Cell Phone, Uses Home Landline for City Business

Thorpe said he doesn’t use his personal cell phone for city business, but uses his home landline, instead.

“I use this phone, right here,” he stated during a phone call Tuesday morning. “I have another cell phone but I don’t give out that number as too many people have my other number and I get texts and phone calls on that.”

Source: Mayor Lamar Thorpe’s X (formerly Twitter) feed.

Labels APOA’s Lawsuit “Intimidation Tactics”

Later, on Tuesday afternoon, Thorpe posted on his official social media accounts the following:

Statement Regarding Antioch Police Union’s Intimidation Tactics

“I’m deeply troubled and disappointed that the Antioch Police Officers Association -a.k.a. the Police Union- still doesn’t get it.

Current and former members of the Antioch Police Department are being indicted by the US Department of Justice. Several more are being charged with state crimes by the Contra Costa District Attorney.

Two state agencies are investigating the department including California’s attorney general. The city is currently investigating members for racist text messages discovered by the FBI.

And, lastly, the city council approved my request for audits of the internal affairs process, hiring and promotions practices, and to examine patterns and practices.

Right now, the police union should be working with my colleagues and me to build a department that is reflective of our city’s values. Instead, the police union is busy trying to intimidate me and City Hall with the same old, tired tactics of yesteryear by aiming to turn me into the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”

Because it didn’t answer the questions posed to him or explain how there are no record of texts, emails or phone calls as requested by the APOA’s attorney, Thorpe was again asked if he uses a city-issued cell phone. He was also asked when he stopped using his personal cell phone for city-related business. He did not respond prior to Tuesday’s closed session meeting which began at 6:00 p.m. or by publication time.

Smith also did not respond prior to publication time.

UPDATE #1: Rains Responds to Thorpe’s Statement

In response to Thorpe’s statement Rains wrote, “It’s nonsense.  We have been trying to get a straight answer from the City for five months concerning calls/texts/emails sent and/or received by Thorpe with other City or DA employees in the week or so preceding his March 30 press conference announcing the texting investigation, even though no text messages had been released to the City or the media before March 30.  The City refused our request to describe any search conducted of his cell phone for the information, and we told them if they continued to refuse our request for transparency, we would seek relief in Superior Court.  They did nothing and we were forced to file the writ.”

UPDATE #2: Following Tuesday night’s closed session, Attorney Smith reported out about the lawsuit stating, “no reportable action.”

UPDATE #3 (9/27/23): When reached later for comment asking again when he stopped using his personal cell phone for city business Thorpe said, “I’m not going to answer any questions related to the investigation.” But the mayor did say he doesn’t have a city-issued cell phone.

the attachments to this post:

Thorpe’s Statement re APOA lawsuit 092623

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