The text messages included sexual references and derogatory language, according to the Sacramento Bee. A text reportedly called a COVID-19 patient an “outbreak monkey” and sexualized people dealing with homelessness. The texts came months after a grand jury report condemning the City of Eureka’s enforcement measures relating to homelessness.
Eureka Police Chief Steve Watson announced that the officers were placed on leave Wednesday, while a third-party investigator looks into the texts. Reyna-Sanchez, a sergeant in the department, and Meftah, an officer, will continue to be paid over the course of the investigation and their administrative leave, the newspaper reported. The texts were sent in a private text message group that included about six officers, a small portion of the department, according to the Sacramento Bee.
“While we leave room for the investigation to reveal more information, we also fully denounce the content of the communications that have been reported,” Watson wrote in a message to the public on Facebook. “And, we respectfully ask you to join us in doing the same. This is, in my opinion, the only right way forward.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Watson Announced the Leave, Effective Immediately, Within Hours of the Sacramento Bee Publishing Its Investigation
The Sacramento Bee reported that Watson was quick to act when he announced the leave of Reyna-Sanchez and Meftah. The officers’ paid administrative leave was made effective immediately. Watson noted in his message to the public that room should be left for conclusions developed during the investigation, but that he believed it was critical to act immediately.
Watson wrote that the investigation was prompted by a call from a Sacramento Bee reporter asking about the text messages. The texts in question were sent between January and August 2020. He wrote that he was not aware of the texts, and neither was his public affairs staff. He asked for copies of the texts, which the reporter provided.
“Upon learning the details of the content in these reported communications, I, like you, was deeply saddened and disturbed. While the exchange that reportedly occurred between officers was something that appears to have taken place on private devices, the subject matter discussed professional duties and was profoundly upsetting,” he wrote. “As Chief of Police, I am deeply concerned with any allegation of behavior that calls into question the professionalism of our officers, who are hired, trained, and trusted to serve and protect the public interest. The kind of attitudes and behavior exhibited in the transcript I saw did not and do not reflect the values and standards of the EPD.”
Watson continued, saying the department has been working for years to strengthen its ties with the community. Their steps involved training and supporting its officers over the past four years in “implicit bias, procedural justice, racial and cultural diversity, de-escalation techniques, and crisis intervention team training.” He said they have “emphasized outreach and services over enforcement to those experiencing homelessness—an approach that stresses building relationships and collaboration within our homeless community and service providers through our innovative Community Safety Engagement Team (CSET) and Mobile Intervention and Services (MIST) programs.”
“What has been reported, unequivocally, does NOT meet the professional standards to which we hold our public servants,” Watson said in the statement. “…We have worked hard together these past several years to create a community-service oriented culture, and to build positive relationships with all members of our community based on committed partnership, mutual understanding, trust and respect.”
He concluded by asking Humboldt County and the nation to support its police officers as he works to keep the trust of the community they serve.
“On behalf of the many men and women of law enforcement who honorably protect and serve their communities every day, in Humboldt County and across our nation, I seek your support as we do everything in our power to earn and keep your trust,” he wrote.
2. Text Messages Called a COVID-19 Patient an ‘Outbreak Monkey’ & Said an Officer Should ‘Face Shoot’ a Suspect Released on Bail, Reports Said
The text messages included derogatory text messages about people experiencing homelessness, women and suspects, the Sacramento Bee reported. Among those messages was a text that said officers should “face shoot” a suspect that was released on bail and one that referred to a coronavirus patient as an “outbreak monkey,” the newspaper said. They also included sexual texts about women, including a female officer, and people experiencing homelessness, the report said.
One of the texts involved a suspect who was released on bail following an arrest involving a large arsenal of loaded firearms, a silencer and other equipment, including body army that belonged to Reyna-Sanchez. The Sacramento Bee reported he was the group’s supervisor and said he “exploded” in the private messaging group after the suspect was released.
“He also had one of my tac vests that I had loaned to code enforcement!! Face shoot the f*****!!!” he reportedly wrote. “He was one of my first arrests!!! Sent him to prison for a minute!!”
The newspaper said “officers openly advocated for violence and made degrading comments about women’s breasts, ridiculed a female colleague, and imagined homeless people and others in sexual situations.”
3. The Text Messages Came Months After a 2019 Grand Jury Report That Said the City & County Were Not Working Effectively to Solve Homelessness
A Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury set out to examine how homelessness was addressed in Humboldt County and concluded with a report it named “Les Misérables: The Criminalization of the Homeless in the City of Eureka.”
“Imagine a world where it is illegal to sit down,” the report began. “Could you survive if there were no place you were allowed to fall asleep, to store your belongings, or to stand still? For most of us, these scenarios seem unrealistic to the point of being ludicrous. But, for homeless people across America, these circumstances are an ordinary part of daily life. (In ‘No Safe Place: The Criminalization of the Homeless in U.S Cities,’ the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty).”
The 2018-2019 grand jury had received a complaint “alleging ongoing unfair treatment of homeless people,” which reported “the homeless were being targeted through the enforcement of specific ordinances, primarily in the City of Eureka.” The report referenced sources that the enforcement procedures did not improve the situation and may be counterproductive.
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors responded to the 2019 grand jury report with a series of recommendations.
4. The Eureka Police Officers’ Association Said the Allegations ‘Reflect Extremely Egregious Behavior’
The Eureka Police Officers’ Association released a statement on the report about the text messages a few hours after the chief’s statement was issued, which strongly condemned the alleged behavior. It called the allegations reflective of “extremely egregious behavior” and “abhorrent.”
“The alleged statements in the article reflect extremely egregious behavior. They are abhorrent, and do not reflect the character, integrity, or attitudes of the vast majority of Police Department employees. Nor do they reflect the seriousness, maturity, or professional attitude this difficult job demands,” the statement said.
The full statement said:
Eureka Police Officers’ Association Statement on Sacramento Bee Allegations of Misconduct Against a Few Members
The March 17, 2021 Sacramento Bee article entitled “California police degraded women in texts, called COVID patient ‘outbreak monkey’” includes several statements allegedly made by Eureka Police Department employees in private conversation. The Eureka Police Officers’ Association (“POA”) encourages a fair and prompt investigation into this matter.
The alleged statements in the article reflect extremely egregious behavior. They are abhorrent, and do not reflect the character, integrity, or attitudes of the vast majority of Police Department employees. Nor do they reflect the seriousness, maturity, or professional attitude this difficult job demands.
The POA does not, and will not, condone violent, racist, sexist, or indifferent attitudes towards the community members we are sworn to protect and serve, or each other. As police officers, POA members understand that their ability to do their job depends on the support and respect of the community.
The community deserves only the best law enforcement professionals.
5. Reyna-Sanchez Was Commended in 2015 for Apprehending a Home Invasion Robbery Suspect & Meftah Was Recognized For Saving a Drowning Man by Swimming Into a Swift Current
Both officers have been commended throughout their careers. Meftah was recognized by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine for swimming out into a cold, fast-moving current to rescue a drowning man. At the time in 2014, he was a police officer with the Uhrichsville Police Department. He received a Law Enforcement Meritorious Service Award for his “heroic efforts,” along with his then-colleague Sergeant Sean Smith.
The man had fallen over a bridge and floated more than 100 yards. He was face down, not breathing and had no pulse. Meftah swam out to him, turned him over and brought him to shore, where he performed CPR along with other officers, the statement from DeWine’s office said.
“The local creek was normally around 25 feet wide and 6 feet deep. As a result of the rain and flooding, it had swelled to about 60 feet wide and 12 feet deep, making conditions extremely dangerous for the victim and responders,” the commendation said. “The victim was transported to the ICU by medical helicopter, where he remained in a coma for several days. When he was released from the hospital, he was able to express his gratitude to Officer Meftah and Sergeant Smith for saving his life in person.”
Reyna-Sanchez was among a group of officers and a dispatcher recognized for their work in apprehending a home invasion and robbery suspect in 2015. A Eureka Police Department Facebook post said they each “performed a critical function with professionalism, distinction and dedication.”
“Each of you are commended for your ability to bring calm out of chaos, turn a radio call into a successful apprehension, and willingness to go into harm’s way for the good of Eurekans!” the post said.
Those recognized were Reyna-Sanchez, Officer Bryon Franco, Officer Ryan McElroy, Officer Jonathan Eckert, Senior Detective Ronald Harpham, Detective John Gordon, Officer Tim Jones and Dispatcher Kylie Nelson. The home invasion and robbery occurred in August 2015, the post said.
A Transparent California report says Reyna-Sanchez made $81,242.73 in regular pay in 2019, in addition to about $33,000 in “other pay” and about $19,600 in benefits. The records show Meftah made $67,480.10 in regular pay, $10,091.55 in overtime pay, $7,663.04 in “other pay” and $22,014.05 in benefits.