Calif. police chief introduces plan to proactively assess current K-9 policies
"Implementing an early intervention system will allow us to identify potential patterns, developing corrective measures when necessary," the chief said
By Nate Gartrell
Bay Area News Group
ANTIOCH, Calif. — Days after this news organization reported an Antioch officer whose K9 bit 22 people over three years is one of the eight police officers under criminal investigation, the city’s interim police chief announced he is conducting a “top down” assessment of the department’s use of police dogs.
At a City Hall news conference next to two city councilwomen — including one of the city’s biggest police critics in past years — interim Chief Steven Ford named two significant proposed reforms: ensuring department-issued cellphones are “exclusively used in a business capacity,” possibly with the use of software, and implementing an “early intervention system to better track and monitor” the use of police dogs in Antioch.
“This will allow the organization to identify potential patterns, and more importantly develop corrective measures when necessary,” Ford said.
Ford’s announcement comes as a federal grand jury continues to investigate 11 East Contra Costa officers –eight from Antioch and three from Pittsburg — for suspected crimes of moral turpitude, including potential civil rights violations in the use of force. A major component of the FBI-led criminal probe is the use of police dogs, who have bitten 49 people since 2019, according to multiple law enforcement sources.
The sources have said a primary target of the investigation is Officer Morteza Amiri, a K9 officer whose dog, Purcy, bit 22 people during a three-year period starting in March 2019, by far the most bites of the city’s seven police dogs, according to records released by the city. A second K9 officer, Nicholas Shipilov, has also been placed on administrative leave while the investigation is pending, though authorities haven’t specified what he is being investigated for.
Multiple law enforcement sources have told this news organization that federal agents seized more than one officer’s phone during the course of the criminal probe, which was publicly announced last March.
Shipilov was one of four officers involved in the December 2020 death of Angelo Quinto, who went unconscious after being restrained by police during a mental health call at his family’s home. Last week, the Contra Costa District Attorney’s office formally declined to charge any of the officers involved in Quinto’s death, a decision that is now being reviewed by the state Attorney General. Quinto’s family has filed a federal lawsuit against the officers and the department.
Councilwoman Monica Wilson and Tamisha Torres-Walker threw their support behind Ford at the news conference, and said they’d implement legislation to back the proposed reforms if necessary.
“By establishing strong accountability within the Antioch police department, we can get closer to our goal of truly working in partnership with our community because we need to build trust,” Wilson said.
The appearance of Torres-Walker at a news conference alongside the city’s police chief is somewhat unexpected as she has been one of the most vocal police critics in city government since her election in November 2020. Last year, she was charged with a misdemeanor count of obstructing officers, including Shipilov, who responded to a call for a shooting in her neighborhood. That charge was dismissed in August, a month after misdemeanor police evasion charges were dismissed against her two sons, aged 15 and 25, in an unrelated incident that Torres-Walker claimed was police harassment.
After Ford’s remarks, Torres-Walker dropped a bombshell, publicly claiming Officers Andrea Rodiguez and Calvin Prieto are two of the officers under criminal investigation. Both officers were present during the arrest of Torres-Walker’s sons and subsequently sued her in superior court, alleging she defamed them and created a hostile work environment with a profanity-laced Facebook live video that criticized the arrest.
Torres-Walker added that Rodriguez, Prieto, and Shipilov “all deserve a fair and impartial process” and called upon the Contra Costa District Attorney to release the names of all the officers under investigation. Ford, who knows the names and stood a few feet from Torres-Walker as he spoke, declined to comment on the ongoing criminal probe during a brief question-and-answer period after their prepared statements. Likewise, the FBI, the Contra Costa DA, and the U.S. Attorney’s office have all declined to release the officers’ names until the investigation is complete.
Thus far, multiple law enforcement sources have confirmed a federal grand jury is subpoenaing witnesses and may make a decision of whether to file a criminal indictment by the year’s end. The sources have named Amiri, Eric Rombough, and Shipilov three of the eight officers on leave while the investigation is pending. Rombough was one of four officers who shot and killed a 57-year-old man during an armed standoff last year, after the suspect allegedly fired a rifle at police.
Amiri, a former Brentwood police officer who joined APD in 2017, is a central focus of the investigation, sources say. More than any other Antioch officer, Amiri shows up in recent use of force cases his own department has released under SB 1421, the 2018 state law requiring police agencies to produce records of investigations related to use of force that caused great bodily harm or death. Those police records show that in some cases Amiri used his police-issued metal flashlight and his fists to strike people in the face, while his K9 Purcy was attacking.
The records show no evidence Amiri was ever disciplined for use of force, and one internal memo praises for using Purcy during an April 2020 traffic stop, adding that the situation could have escalated into a police shooting otherwise. Amiri’s attorney, Michael Rains, told this newspaper the Antioch police conduct thorough investigations of use of force and excessive force allegations and that his client, Amiri, was not found to have violated policies or removed from the K-9 unit until the federal investigation began.