A California city paid a man $750,000 after police officers were accused of spray-painting a swastika and a smiley face inside his car, according to a lawyer.
An investigation into the incident also revealed that officers with the Torrance Police Department had been exchanging “racist, hateful, and deeply offensive” text messages and images, according to a lawsuit.
Kiley Swaine filed a lawsuit against the City of Torrance, which is about 20 miles south of Los Angeles, and two police officers on Feb. 6, nearly three years after he discovered his car had been vandalized.
The settlement was paid on March 15, Jerry Steering, Swaine’s attorney, told McClatchy News.
Swaine was arrested along with other suspects as part of a mail theft investigation on Jan. 27, 2020, and his car was towed to an impound lot, the lawsuit says.
When he went to retrieve his vehicle on Jan. 29, 2020, he saw that someone had spray-painted “a swastika and a happy face” on his car’s upholstery, the lawsuit says. There was also spray paint on his bumper and rearview mirror, and cereal and protein powder were strewn all over the interior of his car.
Swaine was not charged in the mail theft investigation, Steering said.
The police department opened an investigation into the vandalism of Swaine’s car, according to the lawsuit. Two officers, Christopher Tomsic and Cody Weldin, were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit vandalism and one count of vandalism, according to a 2021 news release from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Both Tomsic and Weldin were described as “former Torrance Police Department officers” in the release.
Attorneys for the City of Torrance did not respond to a request for comment from McClatchy News and did not comment when reached by other media outlets.
The District Attorney’s investigation also revealed that a group of police officers had been exchanging hateful text messages, according to the lawsuit.
Included in the texts were messages about “urinating on a Black child, gassing Jews and beating up a woman,” the Daily Breeze reported in 2022.
In one message, an officer made reference to a news story about a man urinating on a Black girl while calling her a racial slur, and the officer asked “Where’s the crime?” according to the outlet.
Tom Yu, an attorney representing Weldin, told McClatchy News that his client and Tomsic pleaded not guilty and are scheduled to attend a preliminary hearing on March 21. Tomsic’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment from McClatchy News.
“I don’t think there’s any evidence that my client did any wrongdoing,” Yu said.
Yu also said he filed a motion to suppress the text messages in court.
“I think they were gathered illegally,” he said. “There are so many messages that were sent, and I think you can’t overlook how they were gathered. We all have private messages, and we all are entitled to our private opinions about things.”
The discovery of the messages led prosecutors to throw out “dozens” of felony cases involving officers identified as having participated in the text exchanges, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Swaine did not realize that police officers were the ones accused of vandalizing his car until October 2021 when he received letters from the Los Angeles County Probation Department notifying him that charges had been filed against Weldin and Tomsic, Steering said.
Steering said the case has served to shine a light on the inner workings of what he called a “typical” police department.
“I think people should know the way police officers think about the world, that they’re not angelic,” he said. “Most people think that cops are basically good guys, honest people with a few bad apples, but that’s not the case. None of them will rat out their pals.”
When asked about the settlement, he said it was the “only justice (Swaine) could get.”