Attorney General Rob Bonta announced on Wednesday that the California Department of Justice would be reviewing multiple allegations of racism, excessive force, and other forms of misconduct by the Torrance Police Department.
The investigation was largely spurred by a Los Angeles Times investigation that uncovered numerous text messages from Torrance PD officers. The texts revealed everything from racial slurs to jokes about hurting and framing black people, Jews, and gays, using excessive violence, and, perhaps most incriminating, lying to an investigation bout a police shooting.
Some of the texts included blatant racism, such as a sent photo of black men being lynched with a caption saying “hanging with the homies”. Another sent text asked what someone should do if they found girlfriend was having an affair with a black man, with the answer being to break his tail light and have the police stop and shoot him. Yet another showed pictures of a Christmas tree ornament, a candy cane, a star, and an enslaved person and asked which one did not belong. One of the officers texted “You don’t hang the star.”
Black people were the most frequent target of derision in the texts, with many calling them ‘savages’ or the n-word. Texts mentioning or showing nooses also came up frequently.
The most consequential texts involved the 2018 shooting of Christopher DeAndre Mitchell. Mitchell, who was suspected of driving a stolen vehicle, was accosted by two Torrance PD officers. After seeing Mitchell move for a weapon, both officers shot him. Later it was determined that the gun had only been a “break barrel air rifle”. While initially cleared of any wrongdoing, the case is currently under a second review by Los AngelesCounty DA George Gascon.
According to the LA Times, one of the officers involved sent a text after being questioned about the shooting saying, “They believed our lies. Good job sticking to the script. LMAO, that’s what they call a W.”
The now revealed texts and the identity of many who had sent and received them subsequently created a massive crisis for the Torrance PD this week as hundreds of criminal cases in which the named officers made arrests or testified may now be legally called into question and challenged. In the case of the Mitchell shooting, the new texts coming out in the middle of a second investigation could possibly even change how the two officers are found.
Bonta announces state review
With the text scandal quickly growing, Attorney General Bonta stepped in on Wednesday for a state review.
“Our communities deserve to know they can get equal justice under the law,” said Attorney General Bonta 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.”
“Now is a time for swift action to identify the facts, take corrective measures where appropriate, and work toward community healing. The California Department of Justice will independently and thoroughly review the Torrance Police Department to determine the appropriate path forward. As always, we will go where the facts lead to protect the rights of the people of California.”
Torrance PD Chief Jay Hart added in the same statement that “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 made clear on Wednesday that the review, which is to be handled by attorneys and special agents in the California Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights Enforcement Section and the DOJ’s Division of Law Enforcement, will consider all relevant information but has also not made any determinations at this time about the TPD officers. The ultimate goal of the state will be to identify and correct what needs to be changed in the department, as well as rebuild trust between the public and the Torrance PD.
“It doesn’t matter who you are or where you stand politically. Police officers saying things like that, especially about the people they protect, is despicable,” noted civil rights lawyer Annaleigh Carpenter told the Globe on Thursday. “And because of their stupidity, we may be seeing criminals and those convicted possibly get off scot-free now. For lawyers like me, this can work in my clients favor quite nicely, but any prosecutors who worked hard on those cases and trusted those officers have to be furious right now.”
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