City Will Pay $750K After Police Allegedly Drew Swastika in Man’s Car

(The Washington Post) − Kiley Swaine’s Hyundai looked different when he went to retrieve it from a Torrance, Calif., tow yard in January 2020.

The car, which had been towed two days earlier when Torrance officers arrested Swaine on suspicion of mail theft, was trashed on the inside, according to a lawsuit Swaine later filed. The seats were covered with cereal and protein powder. On the front seat was a white smiley face drawn with spray paint.

On the rear seat, someone had spray-painted a swastika.

Torrance police officers allegedly told Swaine, who is part Jewish, that the tow yard accepted responsibility for the vandalism. But Swaine’s lawsuit, which he filed in January 2022, alleged that the department had in fact concealed that the two officers who’d arrested Swaine, Cody Weldin and Christopher Tomsic, were the vandals who had painted the hateful symbol inside Swaine’s car on the night of his arrest.

In August 2021, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office charged Weldin and Tomsic in connection with the vandalism. Swaine sued them and the city of Torrance five months later. Last month, the city settled with Swaine for $750,000, his attorney announced Thursday.

“I have been suing police officers for 39 years and I have never seen anything like this,” Swaine’s attorney, Jerry Steering, said in the statement.

The city of Torrance directed a request for comment to the Torrance Police Department. A police department spokesperson declined to comment.

Tom Yu, an attorney representing Weldin, told The Washington Post that the city “gave up” on the case for “political reasons” and that there was no evidence in Swaine’s civil case that Weldin did anything wrong. An attorney representing Tomsic did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.

The criminal case against Weldin and Tomsic is ongoing. Both officers have pleaded not guilty.

On Jan. 27, 2020, Swaine was scavenging from dumpsters with two friends in a Torrance neighborhood, Steering said in an interview with The Post. One of the friends accompanying Swaine stole mail from an apartment building, Steering said, and when Weldin and Tomsic responded to a report of the theft, they arrested all three.

Swaine was not involved in the mail theft, and his charges were later dismissed, according to his lawsuit and Steering’s news statement.

Police detained Swaine overnight and ordered for his car be towed to a tow yard. Before they did, Weldin and Tomsic vandalized Swaine’s car, spilling the food items over his seats and spray-painting the symbol on his back seat, according to Swaine’s lawsuit.

Swaine and his father discovered the vandalism two days later when they arrived at the tow yard to retrieve the car, according to his lawsuit. They insisted the damage was new and reported it to Torrance police, who allegedly viewed security footage of the tow yard and then told Swaine that the towing company had accepted responsibility for the vandalism.

Swaine drove home in his trashed car, and the towing company paid him $2,250 for the damage, according to his lawsuit.

But Swaine’s lawsuit alleged that, at the time, Torrance police knew that Weldin and Tomsic were the vandals and that the towing company had opted to “take the hit” for the Torrance police officers for business reasons. Swaine’s lawsuit initially included the towing company as a defendant alongside the police officers and city.

In court documents, attorneys representing the towing company contested Swaine’s allegation that the company deliberately misled Swaine. They said that on the day he picked up his car, both Swaine and tow yard staff believed the vandalism had occurred after Swaine’s car was towed because a police report had described the car as undamaged. But tow yard surveillance footage was unclear, and the manager opted to take responsibility for the vandalism, according to the filing.

The company settled with Swaine in August, according to court documents.

Swaine’s lawsuit followed the investigation by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office that first charged Weldin and Tomsic with the vandalism to Swaine’s car – and uncovered evidence of what the office described as alarmingly racist beliefs held by many officers within the Torrance Police Department.

Investigators looking into Swaine’s vandalism case retrieved gigabytes of racist text message exchanges, including jokes about Black men being lynched and “gassing” Jewish people, between at least a dozen Torrance police officers that dated back to 2018, the Los Angeles Times reported. Tomsic and Weldin, who were fired in March 2020 when the investigation began, were among the officers who’d sent offensive messages, according to the Times.

Steering, in an interview, criticized the Torrance Police Department for harboring officers with racist beliefs and condemned Tomsic and Weldin’s use of a swastika in their vandalism.

“A lot of Americans gave up their lives over that symbol,” Steerman said.

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