State Watch

California AG launches probe into Torrance Police Department after racist, homophobic texts revealed

California’s attorney general on Wednesday launched an independent review to investigate several police officers in Los Angeles County for exchanging controversial and racist text messages.

The officers, with the Torrance Police Department, joked about lynching Black people, “gassing” Jews and assaulting members of the LGBTQ community over the course of several years. They are also under investigation by the county’s district attorney’s office.

Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a press release that two divisions in the state’s Department of Justice, the Civil Rights Enforcement Division and the Division of Law Enforcement, will examine evidence and talk to community members, police officers and anyone involved to issue a determination on the case and recommend any further action as part of the probe.

“Our communities deserve to know they can get equal justice under the law,” Bonta said in a statement. “Police departments are on the front lines of that fight every day as they work to protect the people of our state. 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.”

The district attorney’s office is investigating at least 15 police officers with the Torrance Police Department who have been placed on administrative leave because of the discovery, the Los Angeles Times reported

Torrance Police Chief Jay Hart had asked Bonta and the state’s DOJ to investigate, he said in the press release.

“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,” said Hart. “In partnership with Attorney General Bonta, I will ensure that needed changes are implemented to regain the public’s trust and confidence. 

Torrance, a city nestled within the Los Angeles metropolitan area, has grappled with a series of police misconduct cases in recent years. The texting scandal has led to prosecutors tossing 85 cases in which the officers made an arrest or testified, and the investigation could lead to prosecutors throwing out hundreds more, according to the Times.

Several of the officers under investigation have been involved in instances of either a deadly police shooting, an excessive use of force or a hate crime. While most of the officers had been cleared from those cases, prosecutors are re-examining them in light of the text messages.

“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, the vice president of criminal justice for a local research firm, Arnold Ventures, told the Times.

Two of the officers exchanging racist text messages were Anthony Chavez and Matthew Concannon. Both officers were initially cleared for the 2018 killing of Christopher DeAndre Mitchell, a Black man who was shot in his car while holding an air rifle and was a suspect in a vehicle theft. Prosecutors are now looking back into the case after seeing messages from Chavez and Concannon, according to the Times.

Two other police officers, Cody Weldin and Christopher Tomsic, are also under investigation. The officers were charged with spray painting a Swastika on an impounded vehicle in January 2020.

Weldin and Tomsic were later fired, but that incident prompted the entire investigation into the Torrance Police Department.

Prosecutors obtained messages in which Weldin and Tomsic referred to a Black baby with a slur and other exchanges mocking Black people in the community they served.

The police union for the Torrance officers told the LA Times that officers are still under investigation.

“We expect that as police officers, our members should be treated like any other citizen — considered innocent until proven guilty,” according to a statement given to the newspaper. “Our members have a right to due process and should be protected from illegal and unnecessary intrusion into their private lives.

This is not the first city in California to deal with racist messages from police officers. Fourteen officers in San Francisco were uncovered in 2015 using similar racist language in text messages.

The Hill has reached out to the city’s district attorney’s office and the Torrance Police Department.

Updated at 4:53 p.m.

Tags Bias California discrimination hate crimes Hate crimes Los Angeles Police abuse prejudice racist messages Torrance

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