A Los Angeles-area police department facing allegations that some officers traded racist and homophobic text messages and joked about beatings, slavery and police shootings is facing a probe from the California Department of Justice, Attorney General Rob Bonta said Wednesday.
As of Thursday, 15 officers with the Torrance Police Department have been put on administrative leave pending local investigations, police spokesman Sgt. Mark Ponegalek told Fox News. The fallout came after an investigation by the Los Angeles Times revealed a history of offensive text messages exchanged by current and former Torrance police officers and recruits.
“Our communities deserve to know they can get equal justice under the law,” Bonta said in a statement announcing the state probe. “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.”
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One of the hateful messages included a photo of several Black men being lynched with the caption “hanging with the homies,” according to the news report. Officers reportedly called Black men “savages” and variations of the N-word, the Times said.
In addition, the group of officers who allegedly traded the messages were involved in at least seven serious use-of-force incidents since 2013 in Torrance and Long Beach. Three ended with the deaths of Black and Hispanic men, according to records examined by the Times.
Other messages reviewed by the newspaper showed officers talking about lying to investigators about police shootings and about using violence.
The Times story was published Wednesday and an internal probe by the Torrance Police Department was launched hours later. The state-level investigation was launched at the request of Torrance police Chief Jeremiah Hart.
“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,” Hart said in a statement.
The revelation has put hundreds of cases in jeopardy as 13 of the officers were listed as possible witnesses in 1,800 cases, including cases involving minors, spanning more than a decade, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office told Fox News. As of Thursday, 40 cases have been dismissed, DA spokesman Greg Risling said.
“Our office has already reviewed hundreds of cases involving officers who have been implicated, prioritizing pending cases as well as post-conviction cases where people remain in custody,” he said. “Additionally, prosecutors are reviewing criminal allegations of unreasonable force that have been presented to our office.”
District Attorney George Gascon said he was notified about the messages in July when two former Torrance police officers allegedly spray-painted a swastika on a vehicle being impounded.
“There is no place for racism or homophobic behavior by members of government, and especially law enforcement,” he said during a Wednesday news conference to review his first year in office. “If you harbor those feelings, become something else but not a police officer.”
At the city level, the Torrance city attorney has dismissed 50 misdemeanor cases, Panegalek said. He added that the loss of 15 officers on leave has not impacted daily operations.
“Some detectives are rotating through patrol shifts and we’re covering everything,” he said.
The state investigation will help identify and “correct potential systemic failures in the department’s policies and practices,” Bonta said.
“Now is a time for swift action to identify the facts, take corrective measures where appropriate, and work toward community healing,” he said.
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None of the officers involved face criminal charges over the messages.