LOS ANGELES – The lead defendant in a federal hate crimes indictment has pleaded guilty to five charges and admitted he organized a group of street gang members who firebombed African-American residences inside the Ramona Gardens Housing Development in Boyle Heights “in order to force the African-American victims to move from the
Carlos Hernandez, also known as “Rider,” 34, pleaded guilty Monday to five felonies that carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.
On the night of May 11, 2014, which was Mother's Day, eight members of the Big Hazard street gang – including Hernandez, who was orchestrating the group's activities – agreed to firebomb several apartments in Ramona Gardens because the residents were African Americans and living in the housing complex. In his plea agreement, Hernandez admitted that he organized the participants, gave each specific roles in the attacks and provided them with items to be used, including masks to conceal their identity and a hammer to break windows.
Once the gang members located their pre-selected targets, they smashed the windows of four apartments to allow for cleaner entry of the firebombs to maximize damage and threw lit Molotov cocktails into the residences, according to court documents. Three of the four targeted apartments were occupied by African-American families, including women and children, who were sleeping at the time of the unprovoked attack.
“Hernandez told the other codefendants who were present that the African-American victims were being targeted for firebombing because of their race,” according to his plea agreement, in which Hernandez admitted that he “and the codefendants knew that throwing firebombs into occupied residences after midnight created a substantial likelihood of causing serious bodily injury” to the African-American families.
“This defendant oversaw a scheme designed to send African-American residents a potentially deadly message – you are not welcome here,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna. “As this successful prosecution clearly demonstrates, we simply will not tolerate acts of violence and hate calculated to deprive people of their civil rights.”
“The defendant and his fellow gang members targeted and attacked families sleeping in their homes because of their race,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to investigate and prosecute these violent acts of hate.”
“Many resources were devoted to the investigation of this hate crime which inexplicably targeted residents based on the color of their skin, including vulnerable children,” said Paul Delacourt, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office. “Any crime that violates an individual's civil rights will not be tolerated and will be vigorously investigated by the FBI and our partners.”
Hernandez pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate civil rights, violent crime in aid of racketeering, using fire and carrying explosives to commit another federal felony, using and possessing a firearm in a crime of violence, and violating the Fair Housing Act.
United States District Judge Christina A. Snyder is scheduled to sentence Hernandez on October 7, at which time he will face a statutory maximum penalty of life in prison.
Previously in this case, seven other defendants who were charged in 2016 pleaded guilty to federal hate crime and related offenses. All of those defendants also admitted that they participated in the firebombings because of the victims' race and color and with the intent to force the victims to move away from the federally funded housing complex. Those seven defendants are scheduled to be sentenced later this year.