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Federal lawsuit filed against city of Torrance in police racist text scandal

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A Redondo Beach man whose car was allegedly vandalized with racist graffiti by two Torrance police officers filed a federal lawsuit against the South Bay city this week, revealing new details about the incident, which sparked an investigation that revealed more than a dozen Torrance cops had been exchanging racist and homophobic text messages for years.

Kiley Swaine, 28, accused the officers of unlawful search and seizure, unlawful taking of his property and violating his constitutional rights in a 46-page complaint filed Wednesday. Ex-Torrance police officers Cody Weldin and Christopher Tomsic were charged last year with spray-painting a swastika inside of Swaine’s 2004 Hyundai Elantra after they arrested him in January 2020.

Photographs submitted as part of the lawsuit showed a large white swastika sprayed across the back seat of Swaine’s car, which was otherwise covered in a mix of white protein powder and cereal.

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“My great-grandmother was Jewish and I have curly hair and a big nose, so I did feel intimidated seeing a swastika,” Swaine said in an interview. “I felt like potentially my life was being threatened, like it was like a sign that they were going to kill me.”

An investigation into Tomsic and Weldin’s alleged misconduct led prosecutors to seek a warrant to search their phones, which turned up roughly 200 gigabytes of data showing more than a dozen officers had been exchanging racist, homophobic and sexist text messages since 2018, prosecutors said.

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A Times investigation last year revealed the identities of 13 of the officers under investigation as part of the scandal and the details of some of their hateful comments. Officers joked about “gassing” Jews, called Black men “savages” and used several variations of the N-word, according to documents reviewed by The Times. The officers also shared instructions on how to tie a noose and a picture of a stuffed animal being lynched inside the city’s police headquarters, according to the documents.

The texts have led the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office to move to dismiss at least 60 criminal cases linked to the officers, and Torrance city prosecutors have tossed an additional 50 cases, officials said. The California attorney general’s office has also launched an investigation into the department.

Tomsic and Weldin are no longer employed by the Torrance Police Department and 15 other officers have been suspended as part of the scandal. A Long Beach police officer, who was a former Torrance police cadet, has also been suspended.

A Torrance police spokesman said he could not comment on pending litigation. Weldin’s attorney declined to speak about the lawsuit. Tomsic’s lawyer did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Swaine said investigators kept him in the dark about their investigation into the officers for well over a year. He made a report to police about the vandalism less than 48 hours after his arrest, according to the lawsuit, but wasn’t notified of the case against Tomsic and Weldin until October 2021. Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón held a news conference announcing the charges against the officers last August. A spokesman for Gascón did not respond to questions about why Swaine wasn’t contacted by prosecutors.

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Police had actually begun to suspect Tomsic and Weldin were responsible for the vandalism in March 2020, according to a search warrant affidavit reviewed by The Times. According to that document, an employee of the tow truck company told police the vehicle had already been vandalized when it was brought to their yard, and body-worn camera video showed Swaine’s vehicle had not been damaged before being towed.

By March, police were listening in on calls between Weldin and a tow company employee that made it “clearly evident [Weldin] had knowledge of the vandalism and he never denied committing the vandalism,” an investigator wrote in the affidavit.

Tomsic, meanwhile, tried to blame his partner for the crime in a phone conversation with the tow truck employee, according to the affidavit.

“Weldin is the instigator in all of this … I’ve been pissed at Weldin ever since then,” Tomsic said, according to the affidavit.

Swaine’s attorney, Jerry Steering, referred to the officers’ actions as “Nazi behavior” and said his client will never feel safe around police officers after the incident.

“Many of the persons entrusted with his protection are more dangerous than most of the people that he’s supposed to be protected from,” Steering said of his client. “When somebody realizes that, it’s an unsettling feeling. Because then who do you call?”

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