2 Ex-Torrance Officers Charged For Vandalism Involving Swastika. 13 Current Officers Are Under Investigation For Racist Messages
Two now former Torrance police officers have been charged with felony vandalism and conspiracy for allegedly painting a swastika on an impounded stolen car last year, L.A. District Attorney George Gascón announced Thursday.
The case could have much broader fallout, because prosecutors and Torrance detectives later found the two men and 13 current officers had been exchanging racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic messages, according to Torrance Police Chief Jeremiah Hart.
Gascón told a joint news conference that he initiated the closer look when he first encountered the case a few weeks ago. He said he had immediate concerns about the swastika, "and as a result of that I ordered additional investigation that included looking at digital communication. And it was during that period of time that we became aware of the additional officers.”
Hart said his department is conducting an administrative investigation into the 13 officers' actions. “I will aggressively pursue any form of racism, bigotry, hate, or misconduct at the Torrance police department," he said. The department has 227 officers.
Gascón said Torrance's inquiry could lead to criminal charges.
The DA’s office said former officers Christopher Tomsic and Cody Weldin pleaded not guilty Thursday and are due back in court Oct. 4 for a preliminary hearing.
The Case Sparks A Broad Review Of Criminal Cases
Gascón said in a statement that his office will review hundreds of criminal cases involving the two ex-officers “to ensure no other alleged misconduct occurred.”
Torrance Police Department officials said they opened a criminal investigation and put the two officers on leave when it learned of the "reprehensible allegations" against them. In a statement, the department said the two officers "do not work" for the department, without saying whether they resigned or were fired.
The DA’s office said Tomsic and Weldin were among a group of Torrance police who responded to a call on Jan. 27, 2020 about three men who had allegedly stolen mail. A vehicle that may have been used in the crime was taken to a tow yard.
When the vehicle’s owner arrived to retrieve it, “he found that a happy face had been spray painted on the front passenger seat and a swastika symbol on the rear seat," the DA's office said.
Gascón sought to place the case involving Tomsic and Weldin, as well as the investigation into the 13 officers, within the context of the national political environment.
“It’s important to recognize that we are at a time in our nation where hate is being propagated," he said. "We have seen an increase in hate crimes. It is unacceptable. But it is doubly unacceptable when we have the people that are sworn to protect all of us to engage in this behavior.”
This story has been updated.