The state Attorney General’s Office opened an “independent review” of the Torrance Police Department Wednesday, following revelations of racist text messages shared among a group of officers for years that have led to the dismissal of hundreds of criminal cases in which the officers were involved.
“Police departments are on the front lines of that fight every day as they work to protect the people of our state,” Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement. “However, where there is evidence of potentially pervasive bias or discrimination, it can undermine the trust that is critical for public safety and our justice system.
“I applaud (Torrance Police) Chief Jay Hart for being willing to engage with my office to tackle these concerns head-on. Now is a time for swift action to identify the facts, take corrective measures where appropriate, and work toward community healing.”
The announcement came on the heels of a Los Angeles Times investigation that found a long history of racist text message exchanges involving at least a dozen Torrance officers, including one message that included a photo of Black men being lynched, with the caption, “hanging with the homies.” Another was a photo that asked what someone should do if their girlfriend was having an affair with a Black man, and the answer was to break “a tail light on his car so the police will stop him and shoot him,” The Times reported.
According to The Times, other texts targeted Jewish people and the LGBTQ community, while also joking about using violence against suspects and lying during investigations into police shootings.
The Times report suggested the scandal could jeopardize hundreds of criminal cases involving the officers who allegedly took part in the racist exchanges. According to the paper, at least 85 criminal cases involving the officers have already been dismissed.
In a statement released through Bonta’s office, Hart said, “As police chief of the Torrance Police Department, I am committed to accountability, and I will not tolerate any form of bigotry, racism, hate, or misconduct. In partnership with Attorney General Bonta, I will ensure that needed changes are implemented to regain the public’s trust and confidence.”
Bonta said Hart contacted his office for assistance. The review will be conducted by the California Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Enforcement Section, with the assistance of Division of Law Enforcement.
In August, two former Torrance police officers — Christopher Tomsic and Cody Weldin — were charged with vandalism and conspiracy to commit a crime involving a swastika that was spray-painted inside an impounded vehicle last year. At the time, Hart said 13 officers had been relieved of duty for “allegations relating to misconduct,” although he did not elaborate.
The Times reported that Tomsic and Weldin are among those allegedly involved in the texting probe, along with Officer David Chandler, who was charged in August for allegedly shooting an armed man in the back.