Activists want police chief fired over fireworks explosion

Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles and several people who phoned in to the Los Angeles Police Commission meeting July 20 called for Police Chief Michel Moore to be fired and for the city to pay reparations to residents affected by a destructive fireworks explosion set off by an LAPD bomb squad.

The June 30 blast in South Los Angeles sent 17 residents and first responders to the hospital, destroyed the LAPD bomb squad truck and damaged 22 residences, 13 businesses and 37 vehicles. Since the explosion, victims forced to evacuate their homes have been provided with access to housing, funds needed to satisfy their basic need and three meals a day.

There’s no reason, there’s no excuse, there’s no rationale,” Black Lives Matter’s Paula Minor told the commission. “You do not detonate explosives in a neighborhood, and we believe, as so many believe, that if this had been another neighborhood, not a working class Black and brown neighborhood in South L.A., they would not have detonated those explosives.

“We stand up, we are insistent, we say over and over: Chief Moore must go.”

According to Moore, a preliminary investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives’ National Response Team found that the bomb squad significantly underestimated, based on a visual assessment, the weight of explosive material that was being loaded into the truck for detonation.

The truck — which had been used 41 previous times over the last decade, including for three detonations in June — can safely contain the detonation of up to 15 pounds of explosive materials for repeated use or up to 25 pounds for one-time use that would render the truck out-of-service in the future. Bomb technicians followed department protocols to limit handling of the explosive devices and estimated the total amount of explosive material being loaded into the truck was 16.5 pounds, Moore said.

The National Response Team’s physical weighing of the materials found that the actual amount was 42 pounds.

One caller to the commission meeting said the fact that the department has detonated explosives dozens of times previously in residential neighborhoods made the matter worse.

You say we’ve done this 41 times before in a residential neighborhood. you think that somehow makes it OK? I don’t know that that’s true, but even if it is, we shouldn’t be setting off bombs in residential neighborhoods,” he said.

Many people called for reparations, some saying it should come from the Los Angeles Police Department’s budget.

You need to make this community whole, find the money in your $3 billion budget to pay for whatever resources are needed to these affected community members,” one caller said.

The LAPD’s budget is $1.76 billion.

Moore told the commission that there have been more than 200 applications so far for impacted residents to receive assistance. He added that it was at the top of city officials’ minds to make sure “the city family, building and safety, all entities come together and support these families, these businesses, everyone that’s been impacted, to restore this community, to restore the lives that have been impacted by this terrible accident.

That includes recognizing that there are some who do not have the financial means to make repairs or restore their lives and then bring receipts to the city. So the question of the city as we move forward is to find the ability to ensure these repairs are made and that we front the funding necessary for people to get back to some sense of normalcy in their life,” he added.

City Attorney Mike Feuer said that his office has received 56 claims filed against the city related to the explosion, and is addressing them within a day of their filing.

We’re trying to speed this up as much as we can. … This is an all-hands-on-deck effort to make sure that anybody who suffered because of that explosion gets relief as fast as possible, because they deserve it,” Feuer said.

The city opened a new resource center July 19 to assist affected residents at the YMCA at 1006 E. 28th St. It will serve as the designated location where victims can connect with a wide range of services, including opportunities to file a claim, obtain mental health and wellness referrals, as well as other supportive services. The office is open Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m.

Transitioning from the local assistance center at Trinity Recreation Center, the new site includes mental health and wellness staff, as well as members of the nonprofit All Peoples Community Center, who will offer food and clothing.

Councilman Curren Price, who represents the neighborhood, said that he was “infuriated” by the findings that the bomb squad likely overloaded the truck with explosives. He called the error “by far one of the LAPD’s largest blunders in recent history, which has further betrayed the trust of our South L.A. community.”

The actions taken by LAPD on June 30 fell short of law enforcement’s duty to protect and serve and this act of negligence bears serious consequences not only for the victims, but for our community and the city as a whole,” Price said. “My constituents feel that this was a blatant disregard for their safety and our community of color. This tragedy could have been prevented and I wholeheartedly believe that additional safety precautions would have been taken in a more affluent community. We must take steps to ensure that such a disaster never occurs again in any part of our city.”

Moore insisted that bomb squad technicians were “operating with the best intentions” in a stressful situation. But he said if mistakes were made in estimating the weight of explosive material placed in the truck, “I will hold the appropriate individuals accountable.”

He said the bomb squad has already begun implementing new procedures as a result of the explosion, including the required presence of a commanding officer during future detonations. The department will seek best practices from other departments to evaluate what other changes should be made.

The National Response Team responded to the scene on July 2 and conducted a week-long investigation at the scene. It will formalize a “cause and origin report” based on its field work, 40 interviews with witnesses and personnel, forensic tests and evaluation of damage and surveillance footage.

The report will be sent to the National Center for Explosive Training and Research for review, and the LAPD expects to have it in 30 days.

Authorities have said about 32,000 pounds of fireworks were being stored at a home on East 27th Street, where they were being sold. The home’s resident, Arturo Ceja III, 27, was charged with illegally transporting tons of explosives. He is set to be arraigned Aug. 2.

Prosecutors said Ceja purchased most of the explosives from a dealer in Pahrump, Nevada.

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