New text messages show Antioch gang unit boasted about injuring suspects
ANTIOCH — A gang unit detective sent racist and homophobic text messages to fellow officers and boasted about shooting Black men with rubber bullets and kicking one man’s head like a “field goal,” according to a trove of new text messages obtained by this news organization.
Officer Eric Rombough also shared pictures of two men bruised in hospital beds after violent arrests — including one he was thankful happened “in a backyard with no cameras lol,” the texts show.
The text messages obtained Thursday, whose existence became known last month as part of a wide-ranging FBI and District Attorney’s investigation into East Bay officers — including Rombaugh — adds volumes to an already damning public portrayal of Antioch’s police department, where about 20 percent of the force is now suspended.
The latest messages represent the second of two known batches of racist and homophobic texts shared between Antioch officers. Already, the messages have prompted calls for mass firings across the city’s police department.
The county’s public defender has also said “thousands and thousands of criminal cases including pending cases and past convictions” involving Antioch officers will be impacted.
Earlier this week, the Bay Area News Group obtained a 21-page dossier of texts detailing how officers referred to Black people as “gorillas” and “water buffalo” and frequently used the N-word while gloating that the horrific language could be used in front of superiors and internal affairs investigators without fear of reprisal. Some officers talked about falsifying arrest reports and congratulated each other for violence inflicted upon residents, according to the investigative reports.
The most recent batch of texts focuses specifically on an investigation into two men — Terryonn Pugh, 22, and Trent Allen, 22 — who were among four suspected gang members charged with attempted murder in August 2021 after prosecutors say the group conspired to murder their gang’s rivals. The text were sent over an 11-day period in March 2021 while detectives were setting up to make arrests.
Over and over, Rombough appeared to revel in shooting and beating the two men — all to the amusement of his fellow officers, the texts show. Most of the eight officers named were detectives in the gang unit at the time.
On March 20, 2021, a little more than a week before the arrests, Rombough texted Detective Robert Gerber, “Bro I can’t wait to forty all of them,” referring to shooting the suspects with a 40mm non-lethal round, according to the report.
“Hell yeah,” Gerber replied, the reports says.
After arresting one man, Rombough told another officer that “Bro, my foot hurts.” When asked if Rombough kicked one of the men, he responded “Yup, like a f—— field goal,” adding with a racial slur that “Gotta stop kicking n—– in their head.”
Rombough also used a homophobic slur while boasting to his wife about the arrest, describing how one suspect “got his ass whooped” by being shot with rubber bullets. Rombough also described trying to knock the man unconscious with his foot — a move Rombough claimed was legal, so long as he didn’t also try to choke the man.
The violent encounter was a pleasant change, he said, after an earlier, “very boring” operation involving members of the police department’s SWAT unit.
“Nice babe, another one for the mantle,” his wife replied. She later added, “glad you’re havin fun babe.”
A call by this news organization to an attorney for Rombough was not immediately returned. Other officers named in the report as receiving texts from Rombough are Sgt. Joshua Evans, Jonathan Adams, Scott Duggar, Tom Smith, Brock Marcotte and Timothy Manly.
The latest messages raise deep concerns about whether officers at the department could ever be trusted again, said Carmela Caramagno, an attorney for Pugh. She decried how Rombough and other officers appeared to show racial animus directly toward Pugh and Allen, while sharing photographs of the two in their hospital beds and making light of their injuries.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Caramagno said. “I’m still devastated, on all levels — for the community, for my clients, for my client’s family, for what it does to our citizens’ view of the justice system overall.”
“The question we really have to ask ourselves is: Why did nobody come forward to help these men of color, and help these defendants?” Caramagno added. “We have to remember these are very young men. And how do we gauge the impact of living under this type of racial hatred has on these young men? And how as a community do we accept responsibility for that?”
Allen’s attorney, Mathew Martinez, said there’s a troubling “casualness” woven throughout the texts. It’s all deeply shaken his belief in the criminal justice system.
“It’s hard to look at this and not be – number one – disappointed,” Martinez said in an interview. “I feel badly for my client. And not just my client, but the community that has been policed by these guys for years.”
“It seems to be encouraged and maybe even taught,” added Martinez, referencing the racist and violent nature of the texts. “And that’s what I find particularly damning about these text messages.”
Already, the case involving Pugh and Allen — along with two other men, Eric Windom, 23, and Keyshawn McGee, 24 — is under scrutiny for being tinged by racial bias.
In open court on Wednesday, attorneys for the four men said they planned to file motions challenging the charges against them, under California’s Racial Justice Act. Caramagno said she also plans to file a separate motion seeking dismissal of each charge under a separate legal theory targeting “egregious governmental misconduct.”