The June 30 explosion that devastated a South Los Angeles neighborhood and injured 17 people was caused when Los Angeles Police Department officers loaded a containment vehicle with more explosives than it was made to handle because the police neglected to weigh the hazardous material first, according to a report by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
“It was caused by overloading the [total containment vessel] with more explosives than the TCV was designed for,” ATF Assistant Special Agent in Charge Michael Hoffman said during a meeting with neighborhood residents Monday night, the Los Angeles Times reports. “That’s what caused the failure.”
Hoffman said the agency has ruled out any other cause for the eruption that damaged or destroyed 37 vehicles, 13 businesses, and 22 residential properties, forcing many locals to evacuate their homes and move into hotels, paid for by the city.
The TCV was designed to withstand repeated detonations of 19 pounds of TNT equivalent at a time, or a single detonation of 33 pounds of explosives before being returned to its manufacturer for analysis. However, the LAPD bomb squad technicians merely eyeballed the explosive load instead of weighing it, LAPD Chief Michel Moore admitted during the meeting, filling the vehicle with 39.8 pounds of explosives.
What’s the big deal about an extra 6.8 pounds of TNT-equivalent material? Well, for reference, the trusty WW2-era Mk2 hand grenade packed just 1.85 ounces of the stuff.
Overloading the bomb squad truck wasn’t the only time the LAPD underestimated what it was dealing with that day. According to an earlier report, police initially calculated that Arturo Ceja III—the alleged fireworks hoarder they were sent to investigate—had 5,000 pounds of explosives in his backyard, but the ATF later revised that measurement to a somewhat heftier 32,000 pounds.
Monday’s revelations were made during a closed-door meeting at the All People’s Community Center, where LAPD officers were checking IDs to ensure only area residents entered, and that the press and community activists were kept out.
Moore said the media and activists were excluded because he didn’t want protestors to disrupt the proceedings or make it harder for locals to get the information he was providing, which included the news that several members of the bomb squad would not be returning to work, though he declined to name them.
Moore’s decision didn’t sit well with some blast victims—and some of them are already suing the city.
Juana Oceguera, who is still living in a hotel and says laptops, documents, and other items were stolen from her apartment, told the Times that she left the meeting feeling “worse than before.”
“I don’t know what to do,” she said. “Supposedly the police were taking care of our street.”
Oceguera added that the cops were “protecting the people responsible” by withholding their names.
Her husband, Ruben Martinez, told the paper, “They reacted like kindergartners. They acted like kindergartners in making this decision.”
Moore said that, after some evaluation, the LAPD’s “protocols, our training, our standards were not strong enough and need to be improved, and we’re committed to doing just that.”
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