The lead defendant indicted in a 2014 firebombing attack intended to drive African-American families out of a Los Angeles public housing complex has pleaded guilty, federal officials announced Tuesday.
Carlos Hernandez, 34, admitted to orchestrating racially-motivated attacks on three of four apartments at the Ramona Gardens Housing Development on the night of May 11, 2014, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
Hernandez, known by his street name “Rider,” led fellow members of the Latino “Big Hazard” street gang in launching firebombs into the occupied residences of Black families, including women and children who were asleep at the time of the late night attack. Officials said the group smashed apartment windows and hurled Molotov cocktails inside, causing several fiery explosions.
In his plea agreement, Hernandez admitted to giving each gang member a specific role in the attack, and provided them with masks, a hammer and other items used to terrorize Black families living at the complex.
Hernandez also told his co-defendants that the African-American victims were being firebombed because of their race and made them aware that hurling the bombs in the residences after midnight “created a substantial likelihood of causing serious bodily injury” to those families. One of the bombs narrowly missed a mother asleep on the couch with her infant cradled in her arms, prosecutors said at time.
Ultimately, no one was injured as firefighters responded to several 911 calls and managed put out the flames.
“This defendant oversaw a scheme designed to send African-American residents a potentially deadly message — you are not welcome here,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement. “As this successful prosecution clearly demonstrates, we simply won’t tolerate acts of violence and hate calculated to deprive people of their civil rights.”
A similar attack at the Ramona Gardens in 1992 prompted Black families to avoid the housing project for almost two decades, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“For more than a generation, keeping blacks out of the housing complex seemed a point of pride for Big Hazard,” according to the newspaper.
On Monday, Hernandez pleaded guilty to five felonies, including conspiracy to violate civil rights, violent crime in aid of racketeering, and using fire and carrying explosives to commit another federal felony. The charges carry a minimum mandatory sentence of 15 years, but Hernandez faces a statutory minimum sentence of life in prison, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
He will be sentenced by a judge on Oct. 7.
As for his seven co-defendants, they’ve all pleaded guilty to hate crime and related offenses connected to the attack and are expected to be sentenced later this year.