Latino Gang Members Confess to Firebombing Black Families In Los Angeles Housing Development

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Gang Member Firebombing
Three of the families firebombed during the May 11 gang attack were African-American. (Photo by (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Three members of a Latino street gang have confessed to committing a racially motivated firebombing attack targeting several African-American families in a Los Angeles housing project, prosecutors announced Thursday.

Three men belonging to the Big Hazard street gang are expected to plead guilty to federal hate crimes charges stemming from the May 2014 attack, according to written plea agreements obtained by the Los Angeles Times. Edwin Felix, 26, Jonathan Portillo, 23, and Jose Saucedo, 24, each face over 30 years in prison, but prosecutors agreed to some seek leniency in exchange for the men’s confessions.

The late-night Mother’s Day attack exposed longstanding racial animosity stoked by the Big Hazard in the Ramona Gardens Housing Development where about 23 Black families reside. A statement released by U.S. Atty. Nicola T. Hanna said the gang claimed the Boyle Heights complex as its territory and terrorized dozens of Black families in an effort to drive them out.

Felix, Portillo and Saucedo were just three of eight gang members involved in the firebomb attack. Three other members have previously pleaded guilty to participating in the attack as well, the Los Angeles Times reported.

As part of the plea deals, prosecutors promised the men they wouldn’t have to testify against alleged ringleader Carlos Hernandez, 31. They claim Hernandez instructed the gang members to use Molotov Cocktails to firebomb the apartments of some of the 23 Black families living at Ramona Gardens at the time. Hernandez denied this, however, saying the directive for the attack actually came from the Mexican Mafia, which controls many Latino gangs in Southern California, court filings state.

The group reportedly met on May 11, Mother’s Day, to prepare for the attack. At that meeting, Hernandez reportedly assigned each gang member a specific job of busting apartment windows, lighting the cocktails and throwing them inside, prosecutors allege. He even provided them with disguises and gloves, the indictment said.

Just after midnight, the men shattered the windows of four apartments they scouted and chucked the lit explosives inside as the families lay asleep. One of the bombs narrowly missed a mother asleep on the couch with her infant cradled in her arms, prosecutors said.

“It was a miracle that no one was injured in these racially motivated attacks,” Hanna said. “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.”

The firebombing case is the latest of several in the past 20 years against Latino gangs who used violence to push rival Black gangs and families out of certain neighborhoods.

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