The Los Angeles County Public Defender’s office has identified about 100 ongoing cases that involve the more than dozen Torrance police officers accused of exchanging racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic messages, Ricardo Garcia told CNN on Saturday.
To date, the Los Angeles County District Attorney has dismissed about 40 felony cases, and the Torrance City Attorney has dismissed about 50 misdemeanor cases involving these officers, officials in those offices told CNN.
“It brings into question the credibility of these officers, right?” said Garcia, the Los Angeles County public defender. “Because when they write reports, when they testify, when they talk about our clients to the prosecutor, their credibility about what our clients may or may not have done, is being weighed.”
More than 1,800 cases spanning over a decade in Los Angeles County are now under review due to the allegations against the officers, 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 prosecutors are reviewing criminal allegations of unreasonable force by these officers, which have been presented to their office.
State officials also conducting a review
The Torrance Police Department also faces an independent review from the state’s department of justice, Attorney General Rob Bonta said Wednesday.
Garcia said his office has not seen all the alleged text messages verbatim. But because of California’s requirement that prosecutors turn over so-called “Brady materials” of exculpatory evidence or materials that could be favorable to the accused, prosecutors have now sent about 300 letters to Garcia’s office, referring to and quoting Torrance officers’ troubling messages.
Garcia said his office has requested copies of all the text messages that may contain offensive material, but has not yet received them. He said it’s unclear how far-reaching an impact this may have.
After a long history of defendants and their families telling him about racist or bigoted behavior by officers, Garcia said technology is now allowing for video and electronic documentation of this alleged behavior.
“This is nothing new,” he said. “When I read about the officers thinking this way, I wasn’t shocked by their actions. I was actually more surprised at the fact that they were so brazen, so bold, to communicate electronically back and forth.”
Tom Yu, an attorney representing former Torrance Police Officer Cody Weldin, told CNN he is going to court Monday to try to have his client’s cell phone data suppressed. Yu said the search warrant and extraction of data were done in violation of the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
Weldin is one of two Torrance officers accused of spray-painting a swastika inside a suspect’s vehicle, a case which prompted a larger investigation and the discovery of troubling text messages among more than a dozen officers.
Sgt. Mark Ponegalek, public information officer for the Torrance Police Department, 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.
Los Angeles Times investigation revealed text messages
The independent review came 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.”
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 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 last week.
No TPD officers currently face criminal charges for the offensive text messages.
Torrance, a city of about 143,000 residents, is 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.