Eighth East LA Gang Member Pleads Guilty to Firebombing Black Homes

A member of an East Los Angeles gang pleaded guilty to federal charges in connection with the 2014 firebombing of African American homes on Monday, April 8. Carlos Hernandez, a 34-year-old member of the Big Hazard gang, pleaded guilty to five felonies which carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in federal prison, the Justice Department (DOJ) said in a statement on April 10.

“This defendant oversaw a scheme designed to send African American residents a potentially deadly message — you are not welcome here,” United States Attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement. “As this successful prosecution clearly demonstrates, we simply will not tolerate acts of violence and hate calculated to deprive people of their civil rights.”

According to authorities, eight members of Big Hazard decided to firebomb several apartments in the Ramona Gardens housing development on the night of May 11, 2014. In his plea agreement, Hernandez admitted that he orchestrated the attack and gave each gang member a specific role.

“Hernandez told the other co-defendants who were present that the African American victims were being targeted for firebombing because of their race,” the plea agreement stated, according to the DOJ. Hernandez admitted that he and his fellow gang members knew the attacks could likely cause “serious bodily injury” to their victims. The gang claimed that the Boyle Heights housing project was its territory, and selected four apartments for their attack. Court documents revealed that the gang members smashed windows in the apartments and threw lit Molotov cocktails into homes.

Black families were sleeping in three of the homes at the time of the firebombing. A woman sleeping with a baby in her arms on a couch was nearly hit by one of the firebombs, authorities said.

“It was a miracle that no one was injured in these racially motivated attacks,” Hanna said in a DOJ statement released last April. “These defendants have admitted their goal was to drive African Americans out of this housing facility. This simply will not be tolerated, and we will take any and all steps necessary to protect the civil rights of every person who lives in the United States.”

Lynette McDaniel, who lived in the apartment complex just 90 days before the attack, told KCAL-9 that she planned to move from Ramona Gardens. “I don’t want to be around this. I don’t want to have my daughter around this at all… so I’m going to move on.”

Hernandez pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate civil rights, violent crime in aid of racketeering, using fire and carrying explosives to commit another federal felony, using and possessing a firearm in a crime of violence, and violating the Fair Housing Act. He will be sentenced on October 7 and faces a statutory maximum penalty of life in prison.

Seven other members of the gang previously pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes and participating in the firebombings, authorities said. In April 2018, The Los Angeles Times reported that Jose Saucedo, 24, Edwin Felix, 26, and Jonathan Portillo, 23, pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes. In exchange for their confessions, Hanna agreed to seek leniency for the three men when they were sentenced.

Saucedo, Felix, and Portillo face more than 30 years in federal prison. As part of their plea deals, prosecutors did not require the three men to testify against Hernandez and another member of their gang. The three remaining gang members pleaded guilty to participating in the bombing prior to last April’s plea deals.

The remaining seven defendants will be sentenced later this year, prosecutors said on Monday.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.