Following allegations of excessive force, racist text messages and other misconduct, the Torrance Police Department in California faces an independent review from the state’s department of justice, Attorney General Rob Bonta said Wednesday.
More than 1,800 cases spanning over a decade in Los Angeles County are now under review, due to more than a dozen Torrance Police Department officers who worked the cases having been placed under investigation for racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic messages, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Greg Risling, the assistant chief of media relations for District Attorney George Gascon, wrote to CNN that to date, approximately 40 felony cases have been dismissed. Risling wrote that the cases under review include juvenile cases. He said the office is prioritizing pending cases as well as post-conviction cases where people remain in custody.
Risling added that prosecutors are reviewing criminal allegations of unreasonable force by these officers, which have been presented to their office.
At the city level, the Torrance City Attorney has also dismissed 50 misdemeanor cases, according to Sgt Mark Ponegalek, public information officer for the Torrance Police Department.
Ponegalek told CNN 15 Torrance police officers are currently on paid administrative leave. Some were put on leave as early as August, with more officers put on leave later as more information became available through the ongoing investigation.
The independent review comes after an investigation by the Los Angeles Times revealed a history of discriminatory text messages reportedly sent between what it says were at least a dozen current and former Torrance police officers and recruits, including a photo of Black men being lynched with the caption “hanging with the homies.”
Another text message conversation included a photo asking what someone should do if their girlfriend was having an affair with a Black man, the newspaper reported. According to the officer’s caption, the answer was to break “a tail light on his car so the police will stop him and shoot him.”
The LA Times report also references records from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office that said TPD officers made offensive jokes about Jewish people and threatened to assault members of the LGBTQ community.
CNN has reached out to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office to confirm the validity of those documents.
The LA Times reports that its investigation of use-of-force records and other court filings also revealed the same Torrance police officers who allegedly sent racist text messages were involved in at least seven use-of-force incidents since 2013. It reported that documents show three of those incidents resulted in the deaths of Black and Latino men, sparking outcry and numerous community calls to reexamine those cases.
The state independent investigation will help “identify and correct potential systemic failures in the department’s policies and practices” and is an effort to “rebuild trust” between the public and the Torrance Police Department, Bonta said, adding that communities deserve equal justice.
“Police departments are on the front lines of that fight every day as they work to protect the people of our state,” Bonta said in a statement. “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.”
The California DOJ is working closely with the Torrance police chief, who had asked for the attorney general’s help.
“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,” Torrance Chief of Police Jay Hart said in a statement.
While no TPD officers currently face criminal charges for the racist text messages, prosecutors said they will continue to investigate previous and ongoing cases the officers have been involved in, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office told the LA Times.
Torrance is a city of around 143,000 people in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.
CNN has reached out to Hart for additional comment and is attempting to reach the Torrance police officers named in the LA Times report.
™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.