LA Gang Member Gets 16 Years for Firebombing Black Homes

A senior member of the Big Hazard street gang was sentenced to 16 years in prison for his leading role in the 2014 firebomb attacks that targeted African Americans in a Los Angeles neighborhood.

Downtown Los Angeles is only minutes away from Mariachi Plaza, a community gathering space and Gold Line station in the Boyle Heights neighborhood. (Courthouse News photo/Martin Macias Jr.)

(CN) — Carlos Hernandez, ranking member of the Big Hazard street gang, was sentenced Tuesday morning to 192 months in federal prison for his role in orchestrating the 2014 firebomb attacks in Los Angeles that targeted African American families.

Hernandez, 36, also known as “Rider” and “Creeper,” was sentenced nearly seven years after he and several other Big Hazard gang members arranged a plan to firebomb several apartments at the Ramona Gardens housing complex in Boyle Heights with the intent to target African Americans and force them from their homes in the dead of night.

According to court documents, Hernandez led a team of seven gang members on May 11, 2014 – Mother’s Day – to the housing complex in the middle of the night to attack four separate apartments, three of which were occupied by African Americans. After Hernandez divided the gang members into groups and armed them with lighters and hammers, as well as arming himself with a semiautomatic handgun, the gang threw lit Molotov cocktails into the occupied apartments.

In one of the attacks, a mother with a sleeping infant on her chest only just missed being hit directly by one of the explosives after she rolled onto the floor upon hearing the window shatter.

“The defendant planned, coordinated, and led these racially-motivated attacks that targeted vulnerable families, including grandparents and infants, while they were sleeping peacefully in their own homes,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement.

Law enforcement officials determined that this plan was by no means a random assault. Hernandez made sure that all of his members were masked to conceal their identities and had all ditched their cell phones prior to the attack to avoid being tracked. The group even traveled to the L.A. complex using a preplanned route that kept them clear of surveillance cameras.  

Hernandez managed to cover the group’s tracks so well that the case went unsolved for two years following the firebombing before law enforcement managed to determine who was behind it. Once caught, all of the gang members in the case admitted to police that they went out of their way to specifically attack African American families and wanted them to move away from the complex, which receives federal funding.

Hernandez first pleaded guilty to nearly a half a dozen felony charges related to the attack in 2019, including conspiracy to violate civil rights and committing a violent crime in aid of racketeering.

U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder sentenced Hernandez to 192 months in prison Tuesday with the direction that she hoped her sentence would send a clear message to those listening that hate crimes would not be tolerated.

Acting Central California U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison said the sentence should serve as a reminder that the federal government will continue to prioritize bringing to justice those who would engage in these kinds of violent and racist acts.

“The defendants in this case perpetrated hate crimes that targeted innocent victims in their homes simply because of their skin color,” Wilkison said. “These despicable acts are simply unacceptable in our society. We are committed to protecting everyone’s civil rights, and anyone who participates in this type of conduct will find that the federal government will marshal all of its resources to ensure they are brought to justice.”

Hernandez’s sentence follows punishments already handed down to several of his cohorts for their role in the 2014 attacks, including Jose Saucedo aka “Lil Mo” and Edwin Felix aka “Boogie,” who were ordered to serve 156 months and 92 months in prison, respectively.

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