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California officers accused of painting swastika on suspect's car

The former Torrance police officers have been charged with vandalism and conspiracy to commit vandalism.
Image: Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gasc?n and Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore along with community leaders discuss community violence reduction efforts in Los Angeles
Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gasc?n speaks in Los Angeles on June 30, 2021.Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images file

Two former Southern California police officers are accused of painting a swastika on a suspect's vehicle, the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office said Thursday.

The former Torrance police officers have been charged with vandalism and conspiracy to commit vandalism, both felonies.

They pleaded not guilty Thursday, the D.A.'s office said. They were arrested, cited and released Thursday, according to sheriff's inmate records.

Prosecutors allege the two vandalized the vehicle, a 2004 Hyundai Elantra, of a mail theft suspect on Jan. 27, 2020.

The officers responded to a report of three men stealing mail from an apartment complex and were led to the car, which they believed might have been used in the crime, the D.A. said.

The vehicle was taken to a tow yard and when its owner picked it up, he discovered it had been vandalized.

"He found that a happy face had been spray painted on the front passenger seat and a swastika symbol on the rear seat," according to prosecutors. "Other items also had been strewn throughout the vehicle."

Charging documents in the case allege the vehicle's bumper, passenger door mirror, front passenger seat and rear seat had been spray painted.

Torrance police Sgt. Mark Ponegalek said in the D.A.'s statement that the two were no longer employed by the department.

"Immediately upon learning of the reprehensible allegations in 2020, the Torrance Police Department opened a criminal investigation and the officers were put on leave," Ponegalek said. "The criminal case was delivered to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office in April of 2020 with a recommendation that criminal charges be filed."

District Attorney Gascón said in the same statement that he was committed to "uprooting discrimination within the law enforcement ranks."

The defendants could face 16 months to three years in county jail if convicted.

The Torrance Police Officers' Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment.