Hundreds of cases are in jeopardy following the reveal of ongoing racist, xenophobic, sexist, and homophobic text messages traded by dozens of police officers in Torrance, California, who had previously served as witnesses. Texts included exchanges about lynching, hanging, enslaving, and "gassing" Jewish people, according to an investigation of The LA Times.
The texts run the gamut from a photo of Black men who had been lynched with the caption, "Hanging with the homies" to another image asking what someone should do if their girlfriend had an affair with a Black man. The officer's reply: break “a tail light on his car so the police will stop him and shoot him.” Additional texts showed how to tie a noose and asked the question, "Which one doesn't belong?" with an image of a candy cane, a Christmas tree ornament, a star topper, and an "enslaved person." The response by one officer: "You don't hang the star."
"They exchanged texts about assaulting members of the LGBTQ community, using violence against suspects and lying during an investigation into a police shooting," according to district attorney’s office records reviewed by The Times.
Currently, no officers face criminal charges in direct relation to the text messages, but at least 85 criminal cases involving the officers have been dismissed, including 35 County felony cases as of mid-November and an additional 50 city cases. Alarmingly, the officers were listed as potential witnesses in nearly 1,400 cases in the last decade, according to district attorney’s records The Times obtained through a public records request.
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“What those text messages revealed was an extraordinarily hostile attitude toward people of color, people who are nonbinary, people who have different sexual orientations,” said Walter Katz, a former independent police auditor in California who now serves as a vice president of criminal justice for research firm Arnold Ventures. “I don’t know that we can take anything they’ve said at face value.”
According to The Times, the 13 officers named in the article were confirmed by individuals with direct knowledge of the situation, however, their identities will not be disclosed for fear of retaliation and they spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“The current administrative investigations are confidential. As such, we do not have access to facts of the underlying investigation, or the alleged inappropriate materials. We expect that as police officers, our members should be treated like any other citizen — considered innocent until proven guilty,” the union said in a statement. “Our members have a right to due process and should be protected from illegal and unnecessary intrusion into their private lives.”
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