Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said at a news conference there has been an unacceptable increase in hate crimes around the US.
CNN  — 

Two former officers with the Torrance Police Department were charged Thursday with vandalism for allegedly spray-painting an impounded vehicle with a swastika, authorities said.

In addition, Torrance Police Chief Jeremiah Hart said that he has relieved 13 other officers of their duty because of an ongoing investigation into messages that he characterized as “racism and hatred.”

Former officers Christopher Tomsic, 29, and Cody Weldin, 28, were charged with one felony count each of vandalism and conspiracy to commit vandalism, according to a statement from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Both men pleaded not guilty to the charges, it said.

On January 27, 2020, Tomsic and Weldin were allegedly among a group of officers responding to a police call regarding stolen mail, the DA’s office said. The former officers were led to a vehicle and allegedly ordered for it to be impounded to a tow yard, according to the D.A.’s office. When the owner of the vehicle arrived to pick up the car, he found a happy face spray-painted on the front passenger seat, a swastika symbol spray-painted on the rear seat, and other items strewn throughout the vehicle, the statement said.

The two men were terminated in March 2020, the police chief said.

At a joint news conference with the police chief, District Attorney George Gascón said the other Torrance officers who were suspended were “exchanging racist, discriminatory, homophobic and anti-Semitic messages.”

The District Attorney’s office has identified hundreds of cases in which the officers were involved, he said, and they will be reviewed that no other misconduct occurred.

“We have seen an increase in hate crimes, not only in our own home town but around the country. And it’s unacceptable,” Gascón said. “But it becomes doubly unacceptable when we have the people that are sworn to protect all of us who engage in this behavior.”

The two former officers are set to return to court on October 4 for a preliminary hearing at the Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles, the DA’s office said.

CNN is attempting to reach Tomsic and Weldin’s attorneys for comment.

Torrance is a city of around 143,000 people in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. The Torrance Police Department currently employs 227 sworn police officers and 128 civilian staff, according to its website.