A gang member convicted of firebombing the homes of several African American families in Los Angeles Ramona Gardens housing project was sentenced to 16 years in federal prison on Tuesday (March 23) for organizing and participating in a hate crime, Justice Department officials said.
According to a DOJ statement, Carlos Hernandez, 36, pleaded guilty in 2019 to five counts of felony including conspiracy to violate civil rights, violent crime to aid racketeering, criminal interference with fair housing rights, using fire to commit a federal felony, and carrying a firearm to commit violent crime.
Prosecutors say on Mother’s Day in May, 2014, Hernandez and seven co-defendants, all members of the Big Hazard gang, targeted and firebombed several apartments in Ramona Gardens, located in L.A.’s Boyle Heights community, because they were occupied by Black families who they wanted out. He went as far as dividing the group and giving them specific responsibilities to carry out the attack.
He also gave out tools like hammers or lighters to use and masks to hide their identities. To evade tracking by law enforcement, they left behind their cellphones and traveled a particular route to the houses to avoid surveillance cameras. Hernandez was also armed with a semiautomatic weapon.
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The gang threw lit Molotov cocktails into the four homes of Black families where children slept. A mother sleeping on a couch with her infant barely escaped being hit by one of the homemade bombs when she rolled off of it as she heard a window shatter. No one was injured in the attack.
The other defendants in the case were charged in 2016 and pleaded guilty to federal hate crime offenses. They were given sentences ranging from seven to 13 years. All of the defendants admitted that they took part in the attacks specifically because they wanted Black families out of Ramona Gardens.
“The defendants, in this case, perpetrated hate crimes that targeted innocent victims in their homes simply because of their skin color,” said Tracy Wilkison, Acting U.S. Attorney for California’s Central District, in a statement. “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.”