Hundreds of LA-area cases imperiled by allegedly derogatory police officer texts

According to an investigation conducted by the Los Angeles Times, more than a dozen police officers exchanged allegedly racist and homophobic messages over text. Those text messages could jeopardize hundreds of Southern California criminal cases. 

Officers involved in the scandal include both current and former members as well as recruits of the Torrance Police Department in Los Angeles County. The officers traded hateful comments about many different racial groups, particularly black people, in addition to Jews and those in the LGBTQ community.

Other messages discussed using violence against suspects and being dishonest to investigators regarding details of a police shooting. Eighty-five criminal cases have already been dismissed as a result of the messages, but none of the officers are facing criminal charges over the texts. 

The story was released on Wednesday and included several interviews with inside sources connected directly to the investigation into the officers and exchanged messages. Public records requests and an examination of the district attorney’s office records were also part of the Times’ report.

The messages were apparently discovered by authorities as part of an investigation into two former Torrance officers who have since been charged in connection with spray-painting a swastika inside a vehicle in January of 2020. Just hours after the story was published, the state attorney general announced 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,” said California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office in a news release.

The Torrance police chief reportedly requested the investigation. Chief Jay Hart added in the release, “I am committed to accountability, and I will not tolerate any form of bigotry, racism, hate, or misconduct.”

Seven serious use-of-force incidents in Torrance and Long Beach since 2013 involved officers identified by the Times, and three of those instances resulted in the deaths of black and Latino men. In each case, the officers’ actions were found to be justified. Some of the officers are also currently defendants in lawsuits with plaintiffs alleging excessive force, false arrest, and wrongful death. 

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