Seven men were charged Thursday with carrying out a series of firebombings in 2014 aimed at scaring black families from their East Los Angeles-area homes within a Latino gang's territory.
“Crimes targeting innocent people based on the color of their skin are among the most heinous crimes a community can suffer,” U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker said in a statement. “In this case, the crime was particularly disturbing since the targets of the criminal conduct included children."
Carlos Hernandez, 31; Jose Saucedo, 22; Francisco Farias, 25; Josue Garibay, 23; Edwin Felix, 23; Jonathan Portillo, and Joel Matthew Monarrez, both 21, were charged with nine crimes, including conspiracy to violate civil rights, violent crime in aid of racketeering, and interference with housing rights by force, according to to a federal indictment.
If convicted, each of the men could face a maximum sentence of in the range of 110 years to life in prison.
According to the indictment, the men were members of the Hazard Grande street gang, a network of smaller Latino gangs that claim territory in East Los Angeles. Gang members would routinely harass black residents of the Ramona Gardens Housing Project in Boyle Heights, the indictment states. The vast majority, around 95%, of residents are Latino, and about 3% are black, authorities said.
In early May 2014, Hernandez gathered Saucedo, Farias, Garibay, Felix, and Portillo and told them they were going to "get these n-----s out of the neighborhood," according to the indictment.
On May 11, 2014, the men are accused of meeting along with Monarrez to break the windows of apartments belonging to black families, igniting Molotov cocktails, and tossing them inside, prosecutors allege.
Four apartments were targeted just after midnight, three of them occupied by families with children. No one was injured, but the firebombings left black residents fearing for their safety.
A similar fire bombing had previously targeted black residents at the complex in 1992, the Los Angeles Times reported, driving people away. At the time of the 2014 attack, the return of black families to the complex was considered evidence of easing racial tensions in the neighborhood.
Authorities had appealed to the community for information leading to the men's arrests, releasing surveillance video. The Los Angeles Police Department and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) joined the FBI in the investigation.
"In a civil society, we cannot accept violence fueled by hatred, especially violence that seeks to deprive the freedoms we expect everyone has the right to enjoy,” Special Agent in Charge Eric D. Harden of the ATF said in a statement. “These arrests will hopefully bring peace of mind to both the residents of Ramona Gardens and the city of Los Angeles, and demonstrate that law enforcement is united against hate.”