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In need of a Hells Angels expert, Santa Clara County’s DA turned to an Antioch cop on leave in racist text scandal

Thomas Lenderman is among dozens of Antioch officers named in a sprawling racist texting scandal


Unable to carry his Antioch Police Department-issued badge or gun after being named in a sprawling racist texting scandal, Officer Thomas Lenderman has found another way to put those sidelined policing skills to work.

He’s testifying as Santa Clara County prosecutors’ hand-picked gang expert in a case against members of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club and the group’s alleged ties to two brutal beatings during a Chris Stapleton concert last year at Mountain View’s Shoreline Amphitheater.

All of this, despite Lenderman having spent the past six months on paid administrative leave from his day job in Antioch.

His testimony in late October and early November marked a new twist in one of the Bay Area’s largest police scandals in decades. While several other Antioch officers on leave tried desperately in recent months to avoid appearing in court — even going so far as to cite “industrial injuries” for their absences — Lenderman put up no such fight.

Rather, the officer offered hours of testimony with the blessing of Santa Clara County Judge David A. Cena, who overruled numerous objections from defense attorneys on the legality of allowing a police officer to testify as a court-sanctioned expert while on leave amid allegations of misconduct. He remains on leave.

The whole situation seems “bizarre,” said LaDoris Cordell, a retired Santa Clara County judge and former San Jose independent police auditor who was not involved in the case.

Lenderman is among at least 44 Antioch police officers who either sent or received racist, sexist and homophobic text messages in recent years, according to records discovered during an FBI investigation and later obtained by this news organization. Lenderman himself received multiple messages using the N-word to describe Black residents, including one that appeared to make light of police dogs biting people. Another message he received offered to buy a prime rib dinner to whoever could shoot Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe, who is Black, with a less-lethal foam bullet during a protest.

In early September 2020, Lenderman allegedly sent a text to other Antioch officers about the Black Lives Matter movement: “it’s like the black panthers (sic) but they are Hispanics and from LA area. They were in Martinez for the BLM s—,” text records show.

Even if it’s been deemed legal, Cordell said, calling someone to the stand with so much baggage makes little sense.

“It’s unusual — I know I never saw it,” Cordell said. “And I’m very concerned that we’re giving so much credibility to someone who, right now, can’t be on the force because of these very serious allegations.”

The move also raised questions among police reform advocates about the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office tolerance for racist texting, given that another officer was recently found to send racist texts in its own backyard. Earlier this month, San Jose police Officer Mark McNamara resigned after sending messages that included the N-word and the statement “I hate Black people.”

“It’s indicative of a DA’s office that is trying to secure a conviction at any cost, and a DA’s office that seems completely detached and divorced from the reality that’s happening in the community,” said Raj Jayadev, an organizer Silicon Valley De-Bug.

In a statement, Santa Clara County Assistant District Attorney Stacey Capps stressed that a judge overseeing the Hells Angels case dismissed concerns about the Antioch officer and qualified him as an outlaw motorcycle gang expert anyway. Lenderman was not paid for his time, beyond receiving a parking stipend, and had been asked to be an expert several months before being placed on leave, a DA’s spokesperson said.

“The officer’s pending disciplinary process and his unique and deep expertise in the Hells Angels, were disclosed to the defense and heard by the judge,” Capps’ statement read.

Lenderman’s attorney, Michael Rains, described the officer as “a very well respected expert” on motorcycle gangs who “shouldn’t even be on administrative leave” and is “going to be back to work before long.”

Rains said Lenderman’s text regarding the Black Lives Matter movement came as he sought to protect the group’s members from the Hells Angels during one of their protests. And Rains added that Lenderman never saw texts sent to him with the N-word in them.

A former military policeman and 22-year veteran of the Antioch Police Department, Lenderman testified that he previously investigated about two dozen cases involving Hells Angels members since 2018 and spoke regularly at law enforcement conferences about the motorcycle club. Despite being on leave, Lenderman said he currently had subpoenas to testify in three counties.

His appearance in Santa Clara County, at the behest of deputy district attorney Irene Williams, marked his fifth time being qualified as an expert in court. The previous four times were in Contra Costa County — three times as an expert on outlaw motorcycle gangs, and once to focus on the Norteno street gang.

His testimony this fall centered on the Hells Angels and reputed members accused in multiple beatings on June 18, 2022, at Shoreline Amphitheater.

Authorities suspect several Hells Angels members beat an off-duty police officer at the show before one of them allegedly killed a Bakersfield man with a single punch to the head, according to court documents. A judge is expected to decide Thursday whether enough evidence exists to send the defendants — Raymond Cunanan, Dominic Guardado and Logan Winterton — to trial on charges that vary for each person and range from dissuading a witness to murder.

Cody Salfen, a defense attorney for Cunanan, criticized the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office for being “willing to turn a blind eye to what is blatant racism and blatant bias in policing,” adding that prosecutors’ decision to put Lenderman on the stand “defies logic” and “taints the well.”

If anything, the decision to rely so heavily on Lenderman presents risks for prosecutors, said Steven Clark, a former Santa Clara County prosecutor.

“Usually you want your experts to be squeaky clean, because the whole issue is credibility,” said Clark, now a private attorney and legal analyst. “You want them to be believed by the jury, and you don’t want to call an expert who is going to be dismantled on cross examination if you don’t need to.”