New racist texts reveal Torrance cops talked about hurting and killing Black suspects

TORRANCE, CA - JANUARY 5, 2019: Torrance police stand guard outside the Gable House Bowl in Torrance
Torrance police investigate a shooting in January 2019. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

The day after Torrance police shot Christopher DeAndre Mitchell in 2018, his mother and a dozen of his loved ones staged a protest outside the department's headquarters.

At the same time, a group of officers — including the two who had killed Mitchell — were discussing the situation via text message.

“Was going to tell you all those [N-word] family members are all pissed off in front of the station," one wrote, according to court documents recently reviewed by The Times.

Court records show the officers later mused about what might happen once the identities of those who shot the 23-year-old became public.

"Gun cleaning Party at my house when they release my name??" one asked.

"Yes absolutely let's all just post in your yard with lawn chairs in a [firing] squad," another replied.

Eight months ago, a Los Angeles Times investigation revealed portions of racist and homophobic text messages exchanged by at least a dozen Torrance police officers, a scandal that sparked an investigation by the California attorney general's office.

Criminal cases in which the officers were involved continue to be dismissed, and at least one man has been released from prison. Lawsuits filed against officers involved have already cost Torrance more than $10 million. Still, most of the officers implicated remain employed by the city.

The state attorney general's office filed a subpoena in May for thousands of pages of Torrance police records, but officials have declined to provide updates on the state investigation. Despite critics' calls for a civilian board to oversee the Police Department — as Los Angeles has — there's little evidence that Torrance officials have taken tangible steps toward reform since the scandal exploded.

Protesters with signs at a Torrance City Council meeting after a police shooting
Protesters attend the Torrance City Council meeting one year after the police shooting death of Christopher DeAndre Mitchell. (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

And earlier this year, another trove of offensive texts came to light.

In response to a court filing from officers implicated in the scandal, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office submitted an exhibit containing all 390 "anti-Semitic, racist, homophobic or transphobic remarks" allegedly made by the officers between 2018 and 2020. The documents, which were heavily redacted, included the comments about Mitchell's loved ones and contained racist cartoons of Black and Latino residents as well as remarks about lynching suspects and killing Black children.

Officers have long been trying to suppress evidence of the texts, which were found last year shortly before prosecutors charged former Torrance police officers Christopher Tomsic and Cody Weldin with spray-painting a swastika inside a car.

A search warrant executed as part of that case found Tomsic, Weldin and at least 15 other officers had been exchanging racist, violent and homophobic messages for years, court records show. The officers' attorneys argued the search went way beyond the scope of the criminal investigation, so most of the texts should be barred from use in prosecutions or internal disciplinary hearings.

Ironically, it was that move to suppress the texts that made them available, after the district attorney's office filed its report on the messages in court.

Tomsic and Weldin left the police department in 2020 after the swastika incident. A spokesman wouldn't say if they were fired or resigned.

If the city doesn't act soon, other officers implicated in the texting scandal could avoid discipline. Under state law, officers generally must face discipline within one year of their agency learning about alleged misconduct. Records show the district attorney's office recovered all of the racist messages last August, though it's unclear when Torrance officials reviewed them.

Torrance Police Headquarters
Torrance Police Headquarters. (Los Angeles Times)

Police Chief Jeremiah Hart declined to comment. Sgt. Mark Ponegalek, a Torrance police spokesman, declined to answer questions from The Times, citing ongoing investigations. But he insisted the agency is working toward reform and noted Torrance police have held meetings with state investigators and provided them with roughly 100,000 pages of documents.

Those affected by the officers under investigation said the seeming lack of action in Torrance is terrifying, but not surprising.

Sheila Bates, a Black Lives Matter organizer who has accused some of the officers of assault, said the department "cannot hold these officers accountable …They cannot keep the public safe."

"They cannot keep their Black residents safe," she continued.

Dirul Robinson's case is one of dozens affected by the texting scandal.

The 47-year-old was driving away from a gathering for a deceased friend in 2018 when he was stopped by police for playing loud music and failing to signal before making a lane change, according to court records and his attorney, Ty Anis.

Robinson — who had multiple prior arrests and served time in state prison for assault — asked the officers to issue him a citation and let him leave, Anis said. The officers ordered him out of the car instead.

Robinson, who is Black, suspected he was being racially profiled and refused. He alleged that officers drew their guns without provocation, leading him to panic and flee the scene, according to court records.

He was arrested on suspicion of evading police, resisting arrest and causing a hit-and-run crash. After a preliminary hearing in February 2020, Robinson accepted a plea deal that would send him to prison for 32 months.

But something about the case gnawed at Anis.

Dashboard camera footage from the scene had cut out between the initial stop and Robinson's flight — the time frame when Robinson said the officers had pointed guns at him, according to court filings. One of the arresting officers, Joshua Satterfield, was unavailable to testify at Robinson's preliminary hearing and officials never said why, according to Anis.

More than a year later, Anis received a letter from the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. Satterfield was involved in the texting scandal, at one point referring to a Black child as a "nigglet," according to court records. Two other officers involved in the stop and chase, Tomsic and Christopher Allen-Young, had also been implicated in the scandal, records show.

Anis filed a motion to withdraw Robinson's plea, claiming prosecutors had failed to turn over evidence impeaching the officers who arrested his client.

The case was thrown out earlier this year, after prosecutors joined a motion to toss all charges against Robinson except for the hit-and-run allegation.

Torrance Police Headquarters.
Torrance Police Headquarters. (Los Angeles Times)

Anis said he would not have let his client plead guilty if he had known about the officers' text messages. Robinson's son was born shortly before he was sent to prison, and he missed the baby's earliest days as a result of the plea deal.

Greg Risling, a spokesman for the district attorney's office, said there is not currently a criminal investigation into allegations that the officers needlessly pointed guns at Robinson or deleted camera footage.

Tom Yu, an attorney representing Satterfield, dismissed Robinson's allegations and questioned whether Robinson's attorney was "smoking crack."

“I think Josh is a hell of a street cop," Yu said. "He arrests white people, Black people, Hispanic people.”

At least 113 cases in which officers linked to the scandal were involved in arrests or would have been material witnesses have been dismissed by city and county prosecutors, according to documents provided in response to public records requests.

“In hindsight, do I wish I’d stalled on the case and kept it going longer? Yes. But at that point in time, I had nothing else," said Anis, a former L.A. County prosecutor. "It was basically Dirul’s word against these two Torrance cops."

The hateful text messages exchanged by Torrance police officers have largely been kept out of view. Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón acknowledged their existence during an August 2021 news conference, but any disclosures made to defense attorneys about them were filed under seal.

Although The Times identified most of the officers in the scandal last December, the newspaper was able to review only snippets of conversations. A week later, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge severely limited what prosecutors could share about the scandal.

But the legal fight stemming from the criminal case against Tomsic and Weldin led prosecutors to enter a heavily redacted report on the text messages into a public court file earlier this year. Among previously unreported texts were gruesome promises of indiscriminate violence against Black people.

One officer shared pictures of tiny coffins intended to house the bodies of Black children they would "put down." Another described how he would brutally execute suspects.

The mother of a police shooting victim is escorted out of a city council meeting
Sherlyn Haynes, center, mother of Christopher DeAndre Mitchell, is escorted out of a 2019 Torrance City Council meeting for yelling and swearing at the mayor. (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

“Lucky I wasn’t out and about," one officer wrote in response to a text about Black men robbing someone in Torrance, according to the records. "D.A. shoot team asking me why they are all hung by a noose and shot in the back of the head 8 times each.”

An attorney for the union representing rank-and-file Torrance police officers did not respond to requests for comment.

The officers' racist exchanges ranged from vague offensive memes and cartoons about Black and Latino men to comments about specific people they had interacted with. Black suspects were repeatedly referred to with racial slurs. On more than one occasion, officers referenced specific acts of violence against Mitchell's family and their supporters.

Two of the officers The Times has previously linked to the scandal — Matthew Concannon and Anthony Chavez — fatally shot Mitchell when he was in the driver's seat of a stolen car. Authorities said Mitchell had an air rifle in his lap, ignored orders to exit the vehicle and moved his hands toward the weapon before officers opened fire.

The district attorney's office, then led by Jackie Lacey, declined to charge the officers, but Gascón reopened the case and last year hired a special prosecutor to review the shooting. Attempts to contact Concannon and Chavez have been unsuccessful. Risling declined to offer an update on the review of Mitchell's death.

After a protest over Mitchell's killing took place during a 2019 City Council meeting, one of the officers sent a text describing the demonstrators as "savages," according to court records. Other messages referenced striking Mitchell's mother, Sherlyn Haynes, with a baton and bragged about injuring another protester with a "takedown."

Bates, the Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles organizer, said she confronted the officer who she said hit Mitchell's mother the night of the protest. In response, Bates said, several officers threw her into a row of chairs and dogpiled on top of her. Bates was arrested on suspicion of disrupting a public meeting, though charges were never filed.

In a lawsuit against the department, she identified one of the officers who attacked her as Brian Kawamoto. Last year, records reviewed by The Times showed Kawamoto sent the message referring to protesters as "savages." In other texts, he said he "wanted to make Torrance great again" in response to another officer's comment about beating a suspect, according to records reviewed by The Times.

Three other officers implicated in the racist text scandal — Allen-Young, Andrew Kissinger and Omar Alonso — have also been accused of using excessive force at that protest, according to other lawsuits filed by people hurt that night.

"It really added insult to injury ... to know, that they not only came after me because of me speaking up, but also because of who I am, being a Black woman," Bates said. "It's racism that is intrinsic to who they are, but it’s also racism that has deadly consequences.”

The city agreed to pay $500,000 to settle Bates' lawsuit earlier this year after receiving a motion to turn over the text messages as discovery in her case, according to her attorney, Erin Darling.

Bates' suit is one of several in which attorneys say fear of disclosing the texts cost the city heavily.

The family of Deautry Ross, a Black man who died in a 2018 struggle with several officers, including Tomsic, settled its wrongful death case against the city for $3 million last year after requesting the text messages, according to civil rights attorney DeWitt Lacy.

Mitchell's family was awarded $7.8 million in a settlement this year after a judge granted their discovery request for records tied to the “text message scandal" dating back to 2016, according to court records and the family's attorney, Peter Carr.

More legal bills are likely coming. Both Robinson and Kiley Swaine, the man whose car officers allegedly spray-painted a swastika inside of, have sued the department.

Despite the mounting legal bills and pile of cases dismissed due to the alleged misconduct, almost all of the officers linked to the texting scandal remain employed by the Torrance Police Department. And there's a chance it could stay that way.

Yu, who represents Weldin, Chavez, Satterfield and officer David Chandler in separate civil and criminal matters, filed a motion earlier this year arguing the warrant that netted the texts was overly broad and evidence collected from it should not be used against the officers in disciplinary proceedings.

The warrant, other attorneys have argued, should have only given investigators access to messages sent or received by Weldin and Tomsic related to the alleged vandalism incident.

“The bottom line is, if I sent a message to my co-worker about how I feel about certain people, why did the police have the constitutional right to seize that and use that against me?" Yu asked. "If I’m making an enforcement act as a police officer, and I’m not making the enforcement decision based on how I feel, then who cares about how I feel?”

A ruling on the motion to suppress evidence in the case is expected by the end of September.

Under state law, police officers normally cannot be disciplined for misconduct "if the investigation of the allegation is not completed within one year" of its discovery. Records show the district attorney's office extracted the texts from Tomsic and Weldin's phones last August. But internal affairs interviews with some of the officers implicated in the scandal only began in April, records show.

It remains unclear when exactly Torrance police obtained that extraction report. Chandler is also facing a criminal prosecution for shooting a man in the back, which could extend the timeline in his case.

Anis says the officers would serve no public safety benefit if they were allowed to keep their jobs.

“I don’t believe that they could ever testify in a criminal case," he said.

Through a review of public court files, internal documents and interviews with people with direct knowledge of the investigation, The Times previously identified the officers who sent racist messages as Tomsic, Weldin, Chandler, Kawamoto, Satterfield, Allen-Young, Blake Williams, Omar Alonso and former Long Beach Police Officer Maxwell Schroeder.

Concannon, Chavez, Kissinger and Torrance police officer Enrique Villegas are also under investigation as part of the scandal, The Times has found.

In total, Torrance police have confirmed 15 officers were placed on administrative leave as a result of the scandal. The department has refused to identify them.

The only police officer to lose his job in connection with the scandal is Schroeder, who never worked in Torrance.

Times staff writer Libor Jany contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.