LBPD Responds to Racist Messages

By: 
Stephen Downing

On Dec. 8 the Los Angeles Times published a story that exposed deep racist, homophobic and Anti-Semitic conduct among a cult of police officers – seven employed by the Torrance Police Department and one employed by the Long Beach Police Department.

According to the Times investigation, several of the officers have since been tied to criminal conduct, others to bad shootings and excessive force.

The Long Beach police officer was tied to a Nov. 2018 use of force complaint in which the “carotid restraint hold was used to subdue a homeless Black man.” LBPD Chief Robert Luna outlawed use of the chokehold by LBPD in June 2020 following publicity surrounding the police murder of George Floyd.

It was reported that the vile messaging exposed in emails uncovered by Torrance Chief of Police Jay Hart has jeopardized hundreds of criminal cases in which the officers have testified or made arrests.

The L.A. Times story can be read here: https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-12-08/torrance-police-traded-racist-homophobic-texts-it-could-jeopardize-hundreds-of-cases

The Beachcomber has since studied documents and responses to questions asked about the case and constructed a time line that reveals how the case unfolded, how authorities responded to the criminal and administrative misconduct discovered and how LBPD Chief Luna responded when notified of the fact that LBPD Officer Maxwell Schroeder was exposed as an alleged participant in the alleged racist text messaging.

The Time Line

The case began on Jan. 27, 2020 when Torrance Police Officers Christopher Tomsic and Cody Weldin are alleged to have spray-painted an impounded vehicle with a swastika.

When their criminal behavior was discovered that same month, Chief Hart immediately suspended the officers and ordered both a criminal and administrative investigation to be conducted.

Six months later (July) the two Torrance police officers were terminated and in August both officers were criminally charged with one felony count each of vandalism and conspiracy to commit vandalism.

According to the LA Times story, when District Attorney George Gascón was briefed on the criminal filing he raised the question as to “whether there was any other things that would lead us to believe that this is not the sort of single crime event” and that “when someone does this kind of stuff, there are bigger patterns of behavior.”

It was reported that Gascón “started asking if we had started asking for text messages.”

Torrance Chief Hart responded immediately to the question, found a trove of text messages and within weeks provided the D.A.’s office with “200 giga bytes of data which showed the officers had been exchanging racist messages since at least 2018.”

James Queally, the L.A. Times reporter who broke the story reported that “the exact number of officers involved is not clear according to a Torrance spokesman but “15 have been placed on administrative leave.”

Within the trove of data a Long Beach police officer, identified as Maxwell Schroeder, was connected to the racist messaging with a text message reading “No Jews, No Blacks” and made racist remarks about “a child eating a watermelon” according to Queally’s reporting.

On August 19 the LBPD was notified of Schroeder’s conduct and provided with the related messaging from the recovered data.

In a Dec. 10 press release, two days following the Dec. 8 publication of the scandal in the L.A. Times in which Schroder was named as a LBPD officer, Chief Luna acknowledged that he received notice of the misconduct in August.

In the first sentence of Luna’s press release he announced: “Yesterday the Long Beach Police Department suspended an officer for comments that were biased and prejudiced in nature.”

The press release then reported that the LBPD received the information and evidence of racial bias on August 19 and “immediately launched an internal administrative investigation and re-assigned the officer to a desk assignment.”

The chief then described the four months that passed since as being “in the weeks since, the department has acquired additional evidence and on Friday internal affairs investigators interviewed the officer as part of the internal administrative investigation.”

Luna reported that “due to the serious nature of the allegations against the officer and based on a preliminary review of the evidence and investigation the department has suspended Officer Maxwell Schroeder, pending a final determination of the administrative investigation.”

Beachcomber Questions

As a result of the exposures in the L.A. Times – coupled with the information provided in the LBPD press release - the Beachcomber asked the LBPD media relations unit to provide answers to the following questions:

1. Why was Officer Schroder not suspended pending outcome of the investigation the LBPD initiated on August 19, 2021 rather than [Wednesday] when he was named in a L.A. Times news report?

2. Why has it taken just short of four months to interview Officer Schroeder when the allegations made against him were filed on April 19?

3. The press release quotes Chief Luna as saying, “This department does not tolerate biased or prejudicial behavior by any employee – this officer’s actions do not reflect the morals held by our officers who engage with our diverse community.”

The statement suggests that the Chief Luna has sustained the allegations contained in the investigation opened on April 19.

If that is the case was the investigation sustained based upon the statements made by the officer yesterday – as reported in the press release?

4. In the past the department has refused to name any officer alleged to have engaged in misconduct that does not fall within the parameters of SB 1421 or to make public the nature of the allegations - all of which according to the press release - are “pending a final determination of the administrative investigation.

Why is that practice being altered in today’s press release?

The response to the four foregoing questions from Chief Luna’s media relations unit was that “most (of the questions) are answerable in the published news release. Moreover, we are not releasing any additional information or details regarding Officer Schroeder outside of the confines of the news release.”

Does Tiger Text Restrict LBPD Exposure?

On Sept. 19, 2018 the Beachcomber broke a story entitled, Tiger Text – LBPD Illegal Destruction of Evidence which exposed the fact that the LBPD had been using a texting application for the prior four years in which text messages were automatically deleted within a pre-determinate number of days.

In that reporting it was revealed that LBPD personnel were instructed: “The app is to be used in situations where we don’t want the texting information to get out to the public – or to be discoverable.”

Chief Luna ordered the Tiger Text application to be suspended on the day the article was published and the suspension has not been lifted since, in spite of the fact that a so-called investigation conducted by a city-hired law firm found that the LBPD found that “the self-destruction of messages on the TigerConnect app and the policies of the city permitting that function, “do not violate or prevent compliance with the Public Records Act.”

The Beachcomber reported upon the quality of the law firm’s investigation in a Dec. 12, 2018 article titled: Legal Experts Declare City Tiger Connect Review a Whitewash. The article can be read here: https://beachcomber.news/content/legal-experts-declare-city-tigerconnect-review-whitewash

Since publication of that article Greg Buhl, a Long Beach attorney, writer and research analyst obtained the metadata associated with the LBPD’s four-year use of Tiger Text and learned that there were 145 users of the disappearing text platform who produced 261,799 text messages before Luna ordered use of the messaging platform to be suspended.

Buhl reported the following:

“A look at the raw metadata shows that Tiger Text was mainly utilized by the top leaders of the LBPD – with relatively little use by investigators.

The top ten users accounted for over half the messages sent on the system, with the vast majority being individual back-and-forth between the department's top brass and public information officers.

Below are the 21 most active Tiger Text users, out of a total of 145 LBPD accounts, and their share of the 261,799 messages sent.”

  1. David Hendricks - 23,928
  2. Megan Zabel - 20,334
  3. Wally Hebeish - 16,761
  4. Joel Cook - 16,112
  5. Robert Smith - 14,641
  6. Lloyd Cox - 14,605
  7. Robert Woods - 11,201
  8. Benjamin Vargas - 10,984
  9. Richard Conant - 10,231
  10. Jeffrey Berkenkamp - 7,406
  11. Michael Beckman - 6,602
  12. Steve Lauricella - 6,231
  13. Phillip Cloughesy - 5,928
  14. Sean Irving - 5,681
  15. Anthony Lopez - 4,987
  16. Gaynor Joseph - 4,696
  17. Erik Herzog - 4,645
  18. William Lebaron - 3,957
  19. Peter Lackovic - 3,915
  20. Michael Pennino - 3,896
  21. Robert Luna - 3,876

“The record for most messages sent in a day goes to then-Deputy Chief of Investigations David Hendricks with 446 messages.

He routinely sent hundreds of messages a day. Most of his traffic was messages to Megan Zabel while she was the police information officer (before being promoted). He routinely sent her hundreds of messages a day, including the person-to-person daily record of 417 messages.”

Final Beachcomber Question

As part of the Beachcomber’s questions addressed to the LBPD via email we asked:

“The Beachcomber would like to obtain the chiefs comment as to whether he believes the Tiger Text disappearing text system used by the LBPD for four years may have concealed the kind of racist and homophobic conduct revealed in the Torrance scandal.”

The LBPD response was: “No, there is nothing indicating such a connection.”

[Editor's Note: The following information is an update to this story's earlier posting Saturday evening.]

Should Background investigations Be improved?

On Dec. 11 Natalie Kremer of Bluff Park posted the following message on Nextdoor along with the CBS local story covering the racist scandal.  She wrote:

"Wow, I went to high school with this officer who is now suspended from LBPD due to an ongoing investigation about his racist text messages.  In high school he was hateful and I was shocked and worried to hear that he was becoming a police officer.”

Kremer continued,”I am glad this is opening up the gates of investigating the police force due to racism and hate.  This should never be allowed.”

Officer Schroeder was a former Torrance police officer before being hired by the LBPD in 2016.  His hiring gives rise to more questions that the Beachcomber has addressed to the LBPD:

“What is the reason Officer Schroeder left the service of the Torrance Police Department and why did the LBPD background investigation not expose the “hateful conduct in high school" – as well as his post high school behavior?”

 

Stephen Downing is a resident of Long Beach and a retired LAPD deputy chief of police.

stephen.beachcomber@gmail.com

Category:

Comments

LBPD has a lot more corrupt incompetent, racist cops they have been there and still are. Only one got caught because of an investigation conducted to another department. Corrupt, Incompetent Luna has never done an investigation into his department, the only thing he did was help racist cops hide their racist messages by giving them TIGER TEXT to use. Am sure if he looks into it he will find a-lot more racist messages but he doesn't want that. SMH LBPD needs to be investigated just like Torrance PD is. Luna never stepped up like the Torrance PD chief did.

Torrance PD chief didn't step up to investigate the texts of his officers until forced to by DA Gascon.

It appears Maxwell Thomas Schroeder worked as a police cadet for the Torrance Police Department (below link) from 2011 to 2015 and was paid between $2,213 in 2011 to $13,865 in 2015.

Maxwell Schroder was then hired by the Long Beach Police Department in 2016 and was paid $49,524 his first year following graduation from LBPD’s #89 Academy class on September 22. Officer Schroder was paid $79,269 in 2017, $87,853 in 2018, $94,082 in 2019 and $101,151 in 2020.

https://openpayrolls.com/search/maxwell-schroeder

Questions I have include:

1. Following the firing of the first two Torrance Police Officers in August 2020, why was it necessary for LA County District Attorney George Gascón to question whether text messages from the fired officers had been checked? George Floyd’s murder had occurred just 4 months prior to these firings and demonstrations against police brutality were occurring worldwide.

2. Why isn’t it standard practice during investigations to check text messages of officers accused of misconduct? Why did DA Gascon have to insist it be done?

3. Why did it take a year (August 2020 to August 2021) for Torrance Police Department to notify Long Beach Police Department about misconduct committed by its officer(s)?

4. California Attorney General Bonta announced December 9 that he had launched an independent review of the Torrance Police Department. Why isn’t Long Beach Police Department included in Attorney General Bonta’s investigation?

5. Has Long Beach police officer Schroeder been suspended with or without pay?

High school?? Really?? Based on someone's personal and likely biased opinion of a future policeman they went to school with?? Pathetic, petty, and ridiculous.

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