Essential California: Text message scandal rocks Eureka police department
Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, June 10. I’m Justin Ray.
The Eureka Police Department in Northern California has been engulfed in controversy after private text messages among officers were published by the Sacramento Bee in two reports: one released in March, and another two days ago. Since the first story broke, a top supervisor has been placed on leave and other officers have left or are looking to leave the department, according to the Bee.
“What’s really interesting about this whole story is the fact that it’s really rare for reporters and the public to get a look under the hood of how police departments operate, especially in the unvarnished kind of way,” Bee investigative reporter Jason Pohl told The Times.
The text messages made public by Pohl show officers advocating for violence and degrading homeless people as “trogs” — short for troglodytes, a term meaning a person who lives in a cave.
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At the time of the first Sacramento Bee report, Eureka Police Department Chief Steve Watson told the paper he was unaware of the messages until he was contacted for comment. “The public’s trust is our lifeblood. It’s not something, genuinely, that we take lightly,” Watson said then. “We need to investigate it, look into it and take appropriate action just to make sure that the values of this department to our community are projected in everything that we do.”
In a Facebook post, the Eureka Police Officers Assn. said, “The alleged statements in the article reflect extremely egregious behavior.” However, a Sacramento Bee public records request revealed that at the time of that statement, the president of the association sent an email to an officer: “I am so so sorry for all that you are going through… Please let me know if you need anything.”
Referring to the text messages, “experts we talked to who study law enforcement culture and people inside of the department who are aware of the conduct from some of these officers, they agreed that this is deeply problematic because it portrays a deeply hostile, degrading culture,” Pohl told The Times.
Soon after the Bee’s first report was released, the city hired a Bay Area law office to review the text messages, the Sacramento paper reported.
When asked what accountability might look like, Pohl told The Times: “That’s a big question.”
“In California, police officers are afforded a lot of protections both in terms of what discipline can be handed down, and what we and the public can find out about. Because personnel records, we don’t get to see those,” Pohl says.
Pohl’s latest story about the case provides more information about the culture within the police department.
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
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CRIME AND COURTS
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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Girl, what was that?! Residents in San Diego County recently heard and felt a mysterious boom for the third time since February. The strange commotion was reported just before 8:20 p.m. by residents as far south as Tijuana. On Tuesday night, the USGS website showed no seismic activity in the region. San Diego Union-Tribune
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Today’s California memory comes from Sulekha Hilton:
I will never forget that one morning when I woke up and there was snow outside. This was Woodland Hills in the late 1980s and, of course, being a tiny child, I didn’t understand how rare it was. I experienced a bit of existential awe but at the same time it felt like no big deal. By the time I got to school, there was still some snow lingering on the grass outside but it was completely gone not long after. I have never spoken to someone about this! Was it real, or is it one of those strange twisted memories?
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