The LAPD’s ‘Controlled’ Fireworks Detonation Is Still Echoing Through South Central

As residents try to pick up the pieces, their councilman says he believes there was a ’level of negligence’ on the part of police

On June 30, when Los Angeles Police Department officers discovered more than two tons of commercial-grade and homemade fireworks in the E. 27th Street backyard of Arturo Ceja III, a decision was made to pack the fireworks inside a “total containment vessel” and set them off on the spot.

That didn’t go so well. The massive blast radius swallowed up two entire city blocks in South Centra L.A., injuring at least 17 people—10 police officers and 7 residents, who suffered lacerations from flying glass, blown-out eardrums, and facial fractures.

Now, City Councilman Curren Price, who represents the area, says he believes LAPD officers are responsible for the debacle.

“The councilman does feel there was a level of negligence on the part of LAPD,” Price spokesman Mike Castillo tells Los Angeles. “We want answers. And we want to understand how we’re going to make these families whole again.”

Last Thursday, families were finally allowed to return to their homes, many of which were barely livable, with carpets covered in shattered glass, doors blown off their hinges, furniture thrown over as if from a hurricane. Castillo says that of the 11 households and 50 people displaced by the explosion and subsequence crime scene investigation, most were given hotel vouchers by Price’s office. People with property damage and medical bills have been encouraged to file claims with the City Attorney’s office. A spokesman for the City Attorney’s office wasn’t able to say how many claims had been filed so far, but those could take many months to pay out.

Some of the residents will almost certainly be filing lawsuits against the city.

“I am aware of one family that has already lawyered up,” says Castillo. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear more of that.”

LAPD Chief Michael Moore, in a press conference, blamed the explosion on a “total catastrophic failure of that containment vehicle,” adding, “This vessel should have been able to safely dispose of that material.”

At the request of the LAPD, the Unites States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms has sent a national response team to investigate what went wrong.

“We have not seen anything like that in Southern California, a failure of a [total containment] vessel,” says ATF spokesperson Ginger Colbrun. “I don’t know of anywhere in the country where that’s happened.”

Ceja was charged with possession of illegal fireworks and released on bond the night of the explosion. According to the complaint filed by the U.S. District Attorney, Ceja had purchased the fireworks from a dealer known as “Area 51” in Pahrump, Nevada, where they are legally sold.

The complaint also states that it was an LAPD bomb squad supervisor who made the determination that “some of the homemade fireworks and improvised explosives were not safe to transport due to risk of detonation in a densely populated area and therefore would be destroyed on scene using a total containment vessel.” The complaint says that “LAPD bomb technicians told residents in the area to either evacuate or stay indoors while the fireworks were destroyed in the TCV.”

But residents have told local news organizations that they were unaware of the impending blast.

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