Family of man shot and killed by Torrance PD hold vigil as DA Gascón reopens an investigation into the case

The family of a 23-year-old man shot and killed by Torrance Police officers on December 9, 2018, held a vigil Thursday, three years after the shooting death.

Christopher Deandre Mitchell's family along with Black Lives Matter Los Angeles held a press conference near a billboard demanding accountability in Mitchell's shooting death. Following the press conference, the group held a vigil at the Ralph's grocery store in Torrance where the shooting occurred.

"It has been three years today and nothing has been done and I demand something to be done. Something has to be done. Accountability has to come upon these officers who murdered my son. I refuse for them to get away with murdering my son. I miss my son so much. It just hurts me. I live daily in pain of missing my only child. I wish he was here. They [two Torrance police officers] did not have to murder my son. In 15 seconds, he was gone," said Sherlyn Haynes, the mother of Mitchell.
Haynes described her son as "loving."

"He had a big heart. He always loved to make people laugh. He loved his family. He loved riding on skateboards, loved telling jokes and loved being around people," she said.

The vigil for Mitchell comes one day after the Attorney General's Office launched a probe into the Torrance Police Department following the revelation of several racist, inappropriate and homophobic text messages between officers that had been exchanged for years. District Attorney George Gascón also launched an investigation into the department with help from the current police chief, Jay Hart.

"There is no place for racism or homophobic behavior by members of government especially members of law enforcement," said Gascón.

The announcement came on the heels of a Los Angeles Times investigation that found a long history of racist text message exchanges involving at least a dozen Torrance officers, including one message that included a photo of Black men being lynched, with the caption, "hanging with the homies." Another was a photo that asked what someone should do if their girlfriend was having an affair with a Black man, and the answer was to break "a tail light on his car so the police will stop him and shoot him," The Times reported.

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According to The Times, other texts targeted Jewish people and the LGBTQ community, while also joking about using violence against suspects and lying during investigations into police shootings.

The Times report suggested the scandal could jeopardize hundreds of criminal cases involving the officers who allegedly took part in the racist exchanges. According to the paper, at least 85 criminal cases involving the officers have already been dismissed.

Gascón is also reopening an investigation into Mitchell's case. Prosecutors previously declined to charge the officers involved in the shooting. Mitchell was accused of driving a stolen car and officers said they saw him reaching for a weapon between his legs when they shot him seated inside the vehicle at a Ralph's parking lot in Torrance. Mitchell died at the scene and an airsoft rifle was found, according to a statement issued by the District Attorney's Office in 2019.

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"To just approach someone sitting in the vehicle and shoot them seven times is just, that's not human like. This seems like a game to them [officers], like they go hunting. To find yourself up against an officer late at night or early in the morning just for a minor traffic infraction, that threat is always there and present," said Terrell Traylor, Mitchell's uncle.  

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Pastor Cue also spoke at the press conference Thursday.

"We're just getting started because not only did they go after Black folks, they went after Jewish folks and they went after trans folks," he said.

Sheila Bates, a community member with Black Lives Matter, said she is calling for the termination of the officers.

"This text message scandal underscores the corruption in the Torrance Police Department because it's not an isolated incident. We have been demanding that they create a civilian oversight commission that they were actually told to do by a grand jury in 2018 prior to the murder of Christopher Deandre Mitchell. We are calling for them to fire all of the officers who are listed in that article and all of them who have been involved in that scandal because none of them deserve to be police officers and none of them deserve to be on our streets," she said.

Melina Abdullah, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter LA, said it's time to reimagine public safety.

"It also absolutely means rethinking what public safety is. If the Torrance Police Department is wreaking havoc, is causing unsafety then we need another solution for safety," she said.

In a statement released through Bonta's office, Torrance Police Chief, Jay Hart said, "As police chief of the Torrance Police Department, I am committed to accountability, and I will not tolerate any form of bigotry, racism, hate, or misconduct. In partnership with Attorney General Bonta, I will ensure that needed changes are implemented to regain the public's trust and confidence."

Bonta said Hart contacted his office for assistance. The review will be conducted by the California Department of Justice's Civil Rights Enforcement Section, with the assistance of Division of Law Enforcement.

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