Antioch officer fired, under criminal investigation over 2022 in-custody beating

ANTIOCH — As the city’s police department continues to reel over one scandal after another, yet another officer has been stripped of his badge over suspected misconduct, this time involving allegations he beat a handcuffed man during an arrest.

Matthew Nutt, a patrol officer since 2019, was fired from the Antioch Police Department this year after allegations that he struck a handcuffed man several times after an arrest last year, multiple sources told this news organization. The Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office is reviewing the incident and in coming days is expected to decide whether or not to criminally charge Nutt.

This controversy is only the latest to hit the Antioch Police Department, which made national headlines last month over revelations that dozens of officers had communicated using racist, homophobic and sexist text messages and memes, sometimes making light of on-duty violence or talking about adding fake confessions to arrest reports. On top of that, at least eight current and former officers have been under criminal investigation by the FBI and DA since early 2022 for suspected civil rights violations and other crimes.

“The virus runs deep in this department. These officers think they have no consequences to their actions,” said civil rights  attorney Ben Nisenbaum, who is among lawyers representing residents in a federal lawsuit recently filed against APD. “They haven’t had discipline, they haven’t had accountability and it seems like this department doesn’t know how to deliver them.”

Nutt is not a subject of the FBI probe, but his name did briefly come up in publicized reports as one of the officers who received offensive messages. Specifically, a DA senior inspector wrote that Nutt was one of more than a dozen officers who received a text from Officer John Ramirez offering a prime rib dinner to any officer who shot Mayor Lamar Thorpe with a non-lethal projectile during a 2020 protest over the George Floyd murder.

Nutt appealed his termination but it was upheld during an administrative hearing in April, according to multiple sources with firsthand knowledge. The incident was referred to county prosecutors for potential prosecution around the same time. That process is expected to take at least a week, as District Attorney Diana Becton requires all police-related filing decisions to go through a committee of prosecutors and investigators first.

Antioch police Chief Steven Ford declined to comment on Wednesday, citing the “extremely sensitive” personnel matter. Similarly, the Contra Costa District Attorney’s office has declined to comment, as they generally do with all active criminal investigations.

Nutt’s attorney did not immediately respond to a message.

Nutt, a Southern California native, joined the Antioch police department in 2019, after spending roughly 18 months on patrol in the Los Angeles Police Department. He graduated from the LAPD academy in 2016 and before that was a United States Marine.

The incident for which he was fired occurred in July 2022, when Nutt allegedly struck a man roughly a dozen times after arresting him during a traffic stop. Details of the arrest have not been made public, but authorities say that the incident was captured on Nutt’s body camera and that prosecutors will review it as part of the charging decision.

Meanwhile, the fallout from the racist text messaging scandal continues — and may soon result in other terminations of officers placed on leave because of the FBI investigation, sending deeply discriminatory texts, or both. Five officers under criminal investigation were named in the trove of messages.

Through the racism and criminal investigations, roughly 20 percent of the city’s police force has been placed on leave, further burdening existing personnel who have already been stretched thin attempting to provide normal policing services to a city of roughly 100,000. Within the department, morale is at an all-time low; sources inside APD reported seeing colleagues break down crying, while others are bracing themselves each day as officers continue to be placed on leave.

County prosecutors have launched a review of active and adjudicated cases involving the impugned officers, opening the possibility that convictions involving the officers could be dismissed en masse. The city’s police force brings several hundred felony cases to the DA’s office for filing annually, and a state law passed in 2020 known as the Racial Justice Act says charges can be dismissed if they were the result of racist filing practices.

Messages were sent or received by about 44 officers — nearly half of the police force — over a roughly two-year period from late 2019 to early 2022.

Federal prosecutors, as well as the DA, have already dismissed dozens of cases involving the officers under criminal investigation.

On April 20, Congressmen Mark DeSaulnier and John Garamendi called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to initiate an investigation into the police department, citing a federal law designed to curb unconstitutional policing practices.

On the same day last month, attorney John Burris announced he is heading an effort to obtain federal oversight for Antioch police via a massive civil rights lawsuit. Burris, who filed a similar suit that led to ongoing federal oversight of Oakland police, called the department “fundamentally corrupted” and in need of a third-party watchdog.

Michael Rains, an attorney for the Antioch police union, has criticized a judge’s decision for allowing the reports on racist texts to be released to attorneys, and threatened to sue the DA’s office for failing to properly redact reports on the texts that the office released to the media.

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