Analysis

Text scandal exposes bigoted character of Eureka, Calif., police

A March 17 article published by The Sacramento Bee revealed disturbing text messages in a group chat of Eureka police officers sent between January and August of 2020. 

One of the messages was from Sgt. Rodrigo Reyna-Sanchez to his squad about a January 2020 “No War on Iran” demonstration outside the Eureka Courthouse. It reads: “There’s supposed to be a protest at the courthouse from 1700 to 1900 for the ‘war in Iran’ … confirm u all have ur riot gear?? Gas mask, helmet, and dude handle,” to which Officer Meftah responded, “I’ll beat those f—— hippies down.”

The ANSWER Coalition had initiated a Global Day of Action against war with Iran on January 25, 2020. The Eureka Courthouse was one of the locations where a protest rally was held. An attendee of that day’s action in Eureka recalled: “We held signs in the pouring rain, completely within our rights to protest and not in any way creating a dangerous situation. There was no need for four police SUVs to watch us the entire time.” 

The group chat also exposed the cruel attitudes of officers toward women and individuals with mental health disabilities as they made crass sexual commentary towards community members struggling with homelessness.

In the beginning days of the pandemic, public-health officials asked Reyna-Sanchez and his squad to check in on residents who may have contracted COVID-19.  When told on April 4, 2020, Meftah responded: “My plan if I had to go there was to knock as lightly as humanly possible on the door, give him an eighth of a second to answer, and then leave.” In response Reyna-Sanchez said, “The public health dr suggested we go there, knock loud and step back when he came to the door!!! Nice plan b—h!!! I’ll be right behind u!!!”

In April 20, 2020, a suspect who had been arrested with multiple firearms and a tactical vest belonging to Reyna-Sanchez posted bail and was allowed to leave the jail. Reyna-Sanchez that day texted the group, “He also had one of my tac vests that I had loaned to code enforcement!! Face shoot the f—–!!!” and continued to say: “He was one of my first arrests!!! Sent him to prison for a minute!!” Ten years prior to this comment Reyna-Sanchez had shot a 25-year old man in the head while on duty. 

Possibly one of the most horrific of all the text messages was a comment made in response to a more than three-hour stand-off between a suicidal veteran suffering from PTSD and officers and mental-health specialists. The stand-off ended with the four officers shooting and killing the veteran. Reyna-Sanchez, not present at the shooting, told his squad that the suspect “is at st joes with several extra holes in him!!”

The majority of the text messages came from two officers, Reyna-Sanchez and Meftah, although photos given by the source show that the group message included five people. According to the Sacramento Bee all the individuals on the group message were part of Reyna-Sanchez’s squad. The Modesto Bee reports that the officers have been placed on paid leave.

In a press release, North Coast Assemblymember Jim Wood stated, “… Eureka Police Department have a pattern of behavior and culture extremely disrespectful to women, people of color, people protesting legally, and people, frankly, who are extremely vulnerable and down on their luck.”

A few bad apples ruin the whole barrel

These text messages date back to January 2020, there were five people in that chat, and we are just hearing about it in March of 2021. The uprising last summer should have been a wake-up call especially for law enforcement officers: The community is watching and will not remain silent anymore about the bigoted, racist, misogynist, above-the-law attitude the institution of the police has held since its inception as slave catchers and union busters. 

It is our responsibility as activists, socialists, and community members to hold these oppressive institutions responsible locally to keep the pressure on nationally. Party for Socialism and Liberation members in Humboldt County are helping to organize a protest at the Eureka court house on March 19 demanding the firing of the officers involved.

Photo caption: Eureka police SUVs take positions across the street from the ANSWER Coalition’s Jan. 25, 2020, ‘No War on Iran’ demonstration at the Eureka Courthouse

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