Torrance pays $750,000 to man after police accused of painting swastika in his car

Torrance, Los Angeles, California-Dec. 8, 2021-Torrance Police Headquarters located at 3300 Civic Center Dr., Torrance, California, Dec. 8, 2021. (Los Angeles Times)
The Torrance Police Department headquarters. (Los Angeles Times)

The city of Torrance has paid a Redondo Beach man $750,000 after two city police officers allegedly spray-painted a swastika inside his car in 2020.

The investigation into that incident led to the discovery of a trove of racist and homophobic text exchanges among Torrance police officers. The resulting scandal prompted prosecutors to toss dozens of felony cases.

In January 2020, after discovering a swastika on his car's back seat, Kiley Swaine filed a federal lawsuit against the city and its Police Department. The alleged incident occurred after he and two other men were arrested on suspicion of mail theft from an apartment building.

Swaine was later cleared of the mail theft charges.

Two Torrance police officers, Christopher Tomsic and Cody Weldin, allegedly spray-painted the swastika, as well as a happy face, on Swaine's front passenger seat and damaged the interior before having it towed away, Swaine's attorney, Jerry Steering, said in a news release.

After Swaine was released and went to retrieve his car, he saw the graffiti and reported it to Torrance police.

The case was referred to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, which filed conspiracy and vandalism charges against Tomsic and Weldin, both of whom have left the force.

The two men, who pleaded not guilty, are awaiting trial.

In a comment provided to The Times through Steering, Swaine expressed disappointment that he was not told by Torrance police who vandalized his vehicle despite a promise that they would do so.

Despite filing the report about the vandalism less than two days after it occurred, Swaine was not notified about the case against Tomsic and Weldin until October 2021, after L.A. County Dist. Atty. George Gascón announced the charges.

“I have been suing police officers for 39 years and I have never seen anything like this," Steering said in a statement. "It never ceases to amaze me that quite often the very people entrusted by our citizens to protect us from dangerous criminals are more dangerous than the criminals who they are supposed to be protecting us from."

The investigation into Tomsic and Weldin prompted prosecutors to search the officers' phones. The search turned up text exchanges among more than a dozen officers that included racist, antisemitic and homophobic comments.

After the text messages came to light, the L.A. County district attorney's office and the Torrance city attorney's office moved to toss dozens of cases involving the officers implicated in the text exchanges.

The Torrance city attorney declined to comment on the settlement.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.