Newly found text messages circulated among current and former police officers of the Torrance Police Department reveal a culture rife with racism, antisemitism, and homophobia going back at least a decade.
Wednesday, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced that his office will investigate the department, telling the Los Angeles Times the probe could lead to criminal charges against individual officers if necessary.
“The reports are very disturbing and we are committed to going wherever the facts lead and making sure we remedy the situation and get the Torrance Police Department on a corrective course of action,” Bonta said.
If necessary? Really?
The texts are extremely violent in nature and grotesquely racist, homophobic, and antisemitic.
According to reporting from the LA Times, one text shows a picture of a candy cane, a Christmas tree ornament, a star for the top of the tree, and an “enslaved person.”
“Which one doesn’t belong?” the caption asks.
“You don’t hang the star,” someone replies.
Another message reads “hanging with the homies,” attached was a photo of several Black men who had been lynched.
Another photo asks what someone would do if their girlfriend was having an affair with a Black man. The captioned response was to break “a tail light on his car so the police will stop him and shoot him.”
Prosecutors say the messages go back years and could jeopardize hundreds of criminal cases in which the officers either testified or made arrests.
The LA Times identified 13 current and former police officers and one Long Beach cop who are now under investigation. At least nine of the officers texted images or commentary advocating violence against Black people and LGBTQ community members and ridiculing racial profiling. Fifteen officers are on administrative leave, Sgt. Mark Ponegalek, a Torrance police spokesman, told the LA Times.
The investigation began while exploring criminal charges against two former Torrance police officers charged with spray-painting a swastika inside a resident’s car in January 2020.
Ex-cops Cody Weldin, 28, and Christopher Tomsic, 29, were each charged with conspiracy and vandalism.
The newly found secret messages left no marginalized group out. Texts included jokes about “gassing” Jews, beating LGBTQ folks, and lying during investigations into police shooting, according to district attorney’s office records reviewed by the LA Times.
Mostly the texts were focused on Black people, calling Black men “savages,” using the N-word, and one in which officers shared instructions on how to tie a noose.
The texts have led to the dismissal of at least 85 cases involving officers who were attached to the messages. In total, the officers involved are tied to nearly 1,400 cases in the last decade.
“So that could be, for example, a single police officer is in a patrol car and sees an individual on the sidewalk and then says he had a bulge in his pocket and then pats him down and then recovers a gun,” Diana Teran, a special adviser to Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, told the LA Times. “Without that officer, you couldn’t prove that case.”
Torrance Police have hired an outside law firm to additionally review the case of the text messages. Chief Jeremiah Hart asked the attorney general’s office for assistance after the repugnant messages were discovered.
“I am committed to accountability, and I will not tolerate any form of bigotry, racism, hate, or misconduct,” Hart said in a statement.
The text messages go back to 2013, and several of the officers involved are connected to at least seven serious use of force incidents in Torrance and Long Beach, three of which involved the deaths of Black or Latino men.
“What those text messages revealed was an extraordinarily hostile attitude toward people of color, people who are nonbinary, people who have different sexual orientations,” Walter Katz, a former independent police auditor in California who now serves as a vice president of criminal justice for research firm Arnold Ventures, told the LA Times. “I don’t know that we can take anything they’ve said at face value.”