Seven members of the Big Hazard gang have been charged in the 2014 firebomb attack in Ramona Gardens as part of an alleged plot to drive African-American families out of the mostly Latino public housing project.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the charges were included in a 25-page federal indictment unsealed Thursday. Charges include conspiring to violate civil rights, interfering with housing rights, committing violent crime to aid racketeering and using fire and carrying explosives to commit a federal felony.
In the indictment, federal prosecutors detail how the seven men planned and executed the May 12, 2014 attack in which they broke the windows and threw molotov cocktails into four Ramona Gardens apartments. Three of the four apartments were occupied by black families with children; the fourth apartment was occupied by a Latina female who lived in an apartment adjacent to one of the black victim’s apartment. No one was injured in the attack.
Eileen Decker, U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, told the Times the attack was particularly heinous because it targeted families with children. “The fact that children were endangered made this a particularly disturbing type of crime.
The seven charged are listed in the indictment as Carlos Hernández, José Saucedo, Francisco Farías, Josué Garibay, Edwin Felix, Jonathan Portillo and Joel Matthew Monárrez. The indictment details how Hernández organized the others at two meetings held before the attack, including one on May 11, 2014 –Mother’s Day– and distributed disguises, gloves and other materials for the attack.
On the day of the attack, In the early hours of May 12, 2014, the seven men allegedly left their cellulars behind so they could not be tracked by authorities. Hernández allegedly armed himself with a semi-automatic handgun and drove a stolen van to transport the group. They entered Ramona Gardens via a route where they knew the security cameras inside the housing project would not capture them, the indictment details.
While the accusation explains that harassing and controlling African-American families living in Ramona Gardens has been part of Big Hazard’s mission since the gang –affiliated with the Mexican Mafia– originated in the 1940’s, the 2014 firebomb attack followed a lengthy period of relative racial calm in the housing project.
Calm after decades of racial tension
In early May of 2014, Boyle Heights Beat published a story by student journalist Melissa Martinez that detailed how black families had begun to move back to Ramona Gardens after decades-long racial tension. The article detailed how nearly all African American families left Ramona Gardens after a 1992 firebombing of two apartments where black families lived.
At the time, Boyle Heights Beat reported that only 3 percent of Ramona Gardens 1,791 residents were black.
Built in 1941, Ramona Gardens is a cluster of nearly 600 apartment units –four to a building– on the Northeast edge of Boyle Heights, isolated by the rest of the community by the 10 Freeway and railroad tracks.