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City of California releases video of officers shooting less lethal round at transgender woman whose hands were raised

Nate Gartrell, Jakob Rodgers, The Mercury News on

Published in News & Features

ANTIOCH, Calif. — New videos released by the city — in what federal prosecutors now allege was an incident of police abuse — show an Antioch police officer fire a less-lethal launcher at a transgender woman whose hands were raised as a half-dozen officers, some with guns drawn, surrounded her.

In the video, Officer Devon Wenger — one of eight Antioch officers charged in a sweeping FBI indictment alleging civil rights violations and other crimes — is seen firing a less-lethal 40mm round at now 29-year-old Dajon Smith, striking her in the chest as she stood next to an allegedly stolen Masarati with both hands raised above her head. A few seconds earlier, Antioch police Sgt. Joshua Evans — who remains on leave for sending explicitly racist texts to colleagues — can be heard telling Wenger to “plug (her) a– with the 40.”

“Don’t you see my hands right here?” Smith yelled at officers, hands raised, two seconds before Wenger shot her with the sponge round. After being struck, the video shows Smith ducking back into the car, before a gaggle of officers run up, pull her out, and sic a police dog on her as they attempt to put her in handcuffs.

Smith, who is Black, was arrested moments later — though it took prosecutors a full 17 months to charge her with felony vehicle theft. Four weeks later, the Contra Costa District Attorney reversed course, dropping the charges against Smith in this and another car theft case, following a report detailing racist text communications by Evans and numerous other Antioch officers, all of whom have been placed on leave.

The Oct. 26, 2021, incident is included in the final count of the eight-count federal indictment, which charges Wenger with conspiracy and deprivation of civil rights. Wenger’s two co-defendants, Morteza Amiri and Eric Rombough, were not present during the encounter with Smith, but Amiri allegedly congratulated his colleague for the use of the less-lethal weapon and said he looked forward to watching the body camera footage. Wenger also faces charges of conspiracy to distribute steroids.

Multiple law enforcement sources say a former Antioch police lieutenant who reviewed the body camera footage flagged the case for an Internal Affairs probe and possible discipline. An Antioch police records officer said the IA investigation was placed on hold due to the pending FBI and DA investigation into alleged crimes by Wenger, Amiri and Rombough.

 

In an interview Friday, Smith, a 29-year-old Pittsburg resident, recalled officers acting in a frenzied, amped-up manner as they surrounded the car and ordered her to put her hands in the air.

“The guns were drawn already as soon as they got there,” said Smith.

It appeared as though “they just had their mind already made up, before they got there,” she said. “I was like: What’s happening, what’s going on?” Smith said. “I couldn’t really do anything or say anything. I didn’t even swing or take no aggressive action or anything like that.”

Police stopped Smith outside of an Antioch grocery store that day because the red Maserati she was driving had been reported stolen hours earlier from a Pittsburg car dealership. An employee reported that a woman drove off with the vehicle during the test drive.

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