Hundreds of Southern California criminal cases could be jeopardized after more than a dozen police officers exchanged racist and homophobic text messages, according to an investigation by the Los Angeles Times.
The officers — current and former members and recruits of the Torrance Police Department in Los Angeles County — traded hateful comments about people of color, particularly Black people, as well as Jews and members of the LGBTQ community.
Other messages, the Times found, spoke about using violence against suspects and lying to investigators about a police shooting.
The messages have already led to the dismissal of at least 85 criminal cases, the Times found, though none of the officers currently face criminal charges in connection with the texts.
The Times’ story, published Wednesday, included interviews with sources with direct knowledge of the investigation into the officers and the text messages, as well as public records requests and an examination of district attorney’s office records. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity due to the ongoing investigation.
The officers named in the Times’ story either declined to comment through their attorneys or did not respond to the newspaper’s messages.
The newspaper’s story prompted the state attorney general, hours after it was published, to announce an independent probe of the Torrance Police Department.
“The review comes amidst deeply concerning allegations of excessive force, racist text messages, and other discriminatory misconduct,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office said in a news release.
The state investigation was requested by the Torrance police chief.
“I am committed to accountability, and I will not tolerate any form of bigotry, racism, hate, or misconduct,” Chief Jay Hart said in the release.
The officers identified by the newspaper have been involved in at least seven serious use-of-force incidents in Torrance and Long Beach since 2013, including three where Black and Latino men were killed. The officers’ actions were found to be justified in each case.
Several of the officers are also defendants in lawsuits, the Times reported, alleging excessive force, false arrest and wrongful death. The plaintiffs in some of the suits are members of the ethnic groups mentioned in the text messages.
Authorities first discovered the text messages during an investigation into two former Torrance officers who have been charged in connection with allegedly spray-painting a swastika inside a vehicle in January 2020.