Sunday, October 1

Family of woman found in dumpster is ‘ready to fight’ after charges dropped because of police department’s racist texts

The sister of a woman whose torched body was discovered in a dumpster last year slammed Northern California prosecutors after they dropped charges against two men accused in her death, citing the case’s link to racist and derogatory text messages that have shaken a local police department.

Nicole Eason told NBC News that the messages — which were released earlier this year after a joint investigation into the Antioch Police Department by the FBI and the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office — should have had no effect on the prosecution of Ashton Montalvo and Deangelo Boone.

Montalvo and Boone were charged with arson and mutilation of human remains in the Oct. 17 death of Mykaella Sharlman, 25. Both pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Mykaella Sharlman.Courtesy Nicole Eason

Eason called the decision to drop the charges “unacceptable” and said that prosecutors should “recant and scrutinize” evidence that she described as insurmountable, including security video and eyewitness testimony.

“We’re getting ready to lawyer up,” Eason said. “We’re getting ready to fight.”

A spokesman for the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office declined to comment. In a statement Wednesday, the prosecutor’s office “extended its deepest sympathies” to Sharlman’s family and said it would seek to renew the prosecution if possible.

The spokesman, Ted Asregadoo, said in an earlier email that prosecutors are “hopeful APD can pursue other investigative avenues and bring our office more evidence to review for a charging decision.”

The statement said the prosecutor’s office dropped the charges because the case relied heavily on the investigative work of officers associated with the text messages.

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“After thoroughly reviewing the officers’ role in this case, applying relevant legal principles, and considering ethical responsibilities, the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office no longer has confidence in the integrity of this prosecution,” the statement said.

The officers were not identified, and it isn’t clear which messages they sent or received.

An Antioch Police Department spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment, nor did a lawyer for the local police union.

Homophobic slurs, racist images

The messages, from 2020 and 2021, were sent and received by dozens of officers and include homophobic slurs, racist images and the casual discussion of using “less lethal” weapons on people, including the city’s mayor, who is Black, according to an investigative report compiled by the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office.

California’s Attorney General opened an investigation last month to determine if the police department engaged in a pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing.

Asregadoo said Wednesday’s announcement marked the first time the prosecutor’s office has dropped a felony case linked to the messages.

Overdose death

Eason described her younger sister as the “life of the party”—someone who loved praise dancing at church and dreamed of opening a salon. She fell in with friends who were into drugs and began experimenting, Eason said.

The medical examiner determined that Sharlman died of a fentanyl overdose, said Eason, noting that her family had attended all of the court dates in her sister’s death, including the preliminary hearing, where a judge determines if prosecutors have sufficient evidence to make a defendant stand trial.

Eason said that during court testimony Montalvo and Boone were accused of dumping her sister’s body in a dumpster they grabbed from a nearby building after she overdose at an abandoned apartment in Antioch, a city of roughly 114,000 northeast of San Francisco.

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The men were captured on security cameras borrowing a dolly from a 7-Eleven and pushing the dumpster four blocks to a paved trail, where witnesses from a nearby homeless encampment saw them allegedly pour lighter fluid into the dumpster and set Sharlman’s body on fire, Eason said.

Roughly a week later, after Sharlman’s family reported the 25-year-old as missing, Eason said authorities confirmed her death. Eason compared the events to labor pains.

“I didn’t have the joy of getting the baby out,” she said. “We got death instead.”

Lawyers for Montalvo and Boone did not respond to requests for comment.

The family found some solace in learning of Sharlman’s cause of death, Eason said. She died before her body de ella was torched, Eason said. The family was further heartened by the department’s handling of the case, which Eason described as “nothing short of amazing,” and by the arrests that followed.

“For us to have suspects in custody was exceptional,” she said. “It was a win, and it doesn’t always happen like that. Although they’re under scrutiny now, they did their due diligence before they detained these two men.”

Eason added that her family was “devastated” to learn that a detective involved in the case was linked to the text messages.

“However, this scandal came out after my sister’s death,” Eason said. “It shouldn’t have had any bearing on the evidence.”

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