Ex-Torrance police officers move to suppress use of offensive texts
The fate of two former Torrance police officers may rest Monday with a Superior Court judge who has been asked to throw out evidence that the officers shared racist and homophobic text messages.
Judge Amy Carter will decide whether to suppress evidence from the personal cellphones of ex-officers Corey Weldin and Christopher Tomsic. Attorneys for the former officers contend the phones were obtained through a search warrant that was overly broad and violates California’s digital privacy law.
Additionally, they say, investigators allegedly reviewed confidential attorney-client messages on the phones as well as the officers’ medical information.
Weldin and Tomsic are accused of spray-painting a swastika on a vehicle impounded from a theft suspect in January 2020. The warrant was obtained in March that year with an affidavit that lays out the genesis of the text debacle that has made national headlines. About 13 Torrance officers are on paid leave as the city and the state attorney general investigate the offensive texts, which include jokes about lynchings, gassing Jews and shooting Black men. A Long Beach officer who was a Torrance recruit has been suspended without pay.
According to the affidavit, obtained by the Southern California News Group, the chain of events started at 4:07 a.m. Jan. 27, 2020, on Maricopa Street, where three men allegedly were stealing boxes from an apartment mail room. Weldin and Tomsic got the call and rushed to the scene.
One of the suspects arrested there owned a Silver Hyundai Elantra parked on Maricopa. Tomsic filled out a California Highway Patrol form attesting that the vehicle had not been vandalized, and had it towed by driver Chris Dunn to the impound yard at Van Lingen Towing.
The car owner arrived two days later to pick up his Hyundai at the yard and found the back bumper was spray painted white, a side mirror also was painted and a swastika and smiley face were drawn on the upholstered seats. Protein powder and dry cereal were scattered throughout the car.
The impound yard agreed to pay the owner $2,750 for the damage, although there was no evidence the business was at fault, said the affidavit.
During an interview with investigators, tow driver Dunn initially said he didn’t know anything about the damage, but later broke down and said he saw Tomsic spray painting the outside of the car. Dunn also received a text message from Weldin apologizing for the damage, the affidavit said.
Investigators had Dunn phone Weldin while they listened in on the call. Weldin did not deny painting the car even after the tow driver asked him to “come clean,” said the affidavit.
Dunn then placed a monitored call to Tomsic, who tried to blame Weldin, saying, “Weldin is the instigator of all this. … I’ve been pissed at Weldin since then,” according to the affidavit.
Dunn said he was frustrated that he was getting blamed for the vandalism. Tomsic answered, “Yeah it was Weldin, dude, I know.”
Investigators concluded that they would probably find evidence on the officers’ cellphones that a felony hate crime had been committed.
What they found has resulted in a black eye for the Torrance Police Department.
“Changes need to be made in the Torrance Police Department,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said this week in announcing an independent investigation into the text messages.
Attorneys for Weldin and Tomsic did not return messages seeking comment.
Torrance is no stranger to allegations of racist conduct by its police officers.
In the mid-1990s, Torrance was hit by a spate of civil rights lawsuits and complaints, including one that contended a Black employee found a hangman’s noose dangling above his desk. Torrance settled some suits, lost others and won some, still spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlements.
All the while, the city contended officers were innocent and that all the allegations were fabricated, including one that officers had squeezed the testicles of three teenage Latino detainees.
U.S. Department of Justice lawyers conducted a two-year investigation in the early 1990s into department racism that culminated in a 1993 lawsuit alleging job discrimination in the city’s police and fire departments. The city prevailed.
Beverly Hills attorney Howard Price, who represented many of the plaintiffs in the lawsuits, said Friday that the nature of the phone texts made it appear that racism was ingrained in the department.
“It’s a deep-seated cultural problem,” Price said. “This isn’t just a lone wolf, this is a huge group.”