Calif. LEO charged with 4 felonies amid ongoing investigation into illegal firearm activity

The charges are only the latest accusations against 11 current officers and one former officer


By Nate Gartrell
Bay Area News Group       

PITTSBURG, Calif. — In the first filing as part of a federal and state criminal investigation into a dozen Bay Area law enforcement officials, the Contra Costa District Attorney has charged an ex-Pittsburg officer with illegally possessing and selling two assault rifles, new court records show.

Armando Montalvo, 28, was charged Thursday with four felonies for allegedly possessing two AR-15 rifles and selling them to two individuals. The charging documents claim the transactions happened in November 2019, but authorities say the crimes weren’t discovered until this year, when Antioch and Pittsburg officers came under investigation for alleged civil rights violations involving uses of force.

Montalvo was sworn in as a Pittsburg officer in 2015. He resigned from the department on July 8, according to the Contra Costa DA’s office, after being placed on administrative leave in connection with the investigation. In 2021, his last full year as an officer, he received $146,434 in salary and benefits, according to public records.

Authorities have secured an arrest warrant for Montalvo, who is expected to turn himself in. His attorney could not immediately be reached for comment. A Contra Costa judge set Montalvo’s bail at $200,000.

The charges are only the latest accusations against Contra Costa law enforcement officials involving illegal firearm activity. In August, then sheriff’s Deputy Matthew Buckley was fired and arrested for allegedly falsifying reports to steal AR-15s from a court evidence locker. He has not yet been charged. Last May, a sheriff’s volunteer was charged with possessing assault weapons and illegal manufacturing of a firearm after it was discovered he’d taken thousands of gun parts and ammunition from the police gun range where he volunteered without objection of sheriff employees.

Meanwhile, the FBI, Contra Costa District Attorney, and U.S. Attorney’s office continue to investigate alleged civil rights violations and criminal conspiracies said to involve 11 current officers and one former policeman. The former policeman, Tim Manly, worked for both Antioch and Pittsburg departments, multiple law enforcement sources said. It is unclear whether he was fired or quit.

The allegations against Antioch officers include potential conspiracies to assault people through uses of force, including dog bites, sources have said. Two K9 officers, Morteza Amiri and Nicholas Shipilov, are among those placed on leave. Multiple law enforcement sources say Amiri is a high-profile subject in the investigation. A grand jury has been convened and is expected to decide whether to indict the officers in coming weeks.

Already, federal and local prosecutors have dismissed dozens of criminal cases, including felons in possession of firearms, that relied on the testimony of Amiri and other officers. Of the 11 officers under investigation, eight are from Antioch and three from Pittsburg.

Within the Antioch police department’s ranks, there is still hope or perhaps denial that most – if not all – of the eight officers under investigation will be vindicated and returned to work. Some privately say the probe reeks of politicization, others say they’re focusing on doing their job and distancing themselves from their eight colleagues who are on indefinite leave. There is tension, unease, and a fear that the investigation may expand to include others, according to sources who spoke to this newspaper but were not authorized to publicly comment.

Antioch police interim Chief Steven Ford announced a number of reform measures in September, including a review of K9 use and a reformatting of the department’s cellphone policies to ensure they’re used only for employment purposes. Some of the evidence collected against the officers includes text messages conversations surrounding use of force incidents, authorities say.

Montalvo’s first court appearance has been set for next week. In a statement announcing the charges, the Contra Costa DA’s office said it “will not be commenting on this case as it’s part of an ongoing criminal investigation.”

The Pittsburg Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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