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Murder defendants reach plea deal in landmark case tied to Antioch police racist texts

Four men on trial for murder in Contra Costa County will be spending a lot less time in prison than expected.

The trial, which stems from a scandal involving racist text messages from Antioch police officers, is being called a landmark case and is the first major test of the state’s Racial Justice Act.

“This has been a reckoning for everyone involved, and there is no outcome that can ever satisfy anyone in this case,” Contra Costa County Chief Assitant District Attorney Simon O’Connell said.

The outcome of what was originally a first-degree murder case has four murder defendants pleading no contest to manslaughter instead after the court learned Antioch police officers investigating the case exchanged dozens of racist text messages about the men.

“They used just about every racist trope that has been used against African-Americans, Hispanics and people of color,” Defense attorney Carmela Caramagno said.

Caramagno said she was disgusted by how the officers treated the suspect, referring to them as animals, and bragging about kicking and shooting them with rubber bullets. The officers also then shared photos of their injured bodies, much like trophies.

“This sort of conduct goes back to Jim Crow. It goes back to slavery,” Caramagno said. “It hasn’t gone away, and this just shed a light on how much work there is left to do to make sure the criminal justice system doesn’t penalize people of color.”

Legal analysts said this is the first time California’s Racial Justice Act has been tested in a major case and will set a precedent.

“This case is Exhibit A in just how impactful a Racial Justice Act can be on criminal cases in California,” Legal analyst Steve Clark said.

Legal analysts also acknowledge the victim’s families likely won’t be happy. The mother of the victim has already expressed her anger over the result.

O’Connell said the defendants will still serve significant sentences ranging from 13 years and 8 months to 20 years in prison, but the impact of the racial justice violations can’t be ignored.

The chief assitant district attorney hopes it is a wake up call for police officers and the community.

“I think this will be a watershed case for many up and down the state,” O’Connell said. “You hope to do better as a community, as a county, police department, as neighbors. You hope that tomorrow is a better day.”

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