/LAPD officer receives 10-day suspension; first to be disciplined for exploding fireworks

LAPD officer receives 10-day suspension; first to be disciplined for exploding fireworks

Nearly two years after the Los Angeles Police Department’s bomb squad blew up a South Los Angeles neighborhood during the detonation of a cache of fireworks, authorities say the first officer involved has been disciplined.

The anonymous policeman was suspended for 10 days without pay for being “deficiency in tasks that contributed to the loading and detonation of an excessive amount of explosive material in the Total Containment Vessel,” according to department records posted online Tuesday. The officer was only identified by rank and position: police officer III of the “technical maintenance service.” No other details were provided.

The disciplinary action is the first to come to light against an officer in the widely criticized June 2021 incident, as the city continues to work with the dozens of residents and business owners affected by the blast.

In an interview Tuesday, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said he could not discuss the particular officer’s case, citing employee privacy laws. But, he said, a lengthy investigation found “sufficient evidence that misconduct occurred” during the botched explosion. This led him to recommend disciplinary action against “a number of officers who were involved in the handling, the process and the decision-making,” Moore said.

He said he did not know ahead of time how many officers were ultimately disciplined in connection with the blast.

An LAPD spokeswoman later clarified that six department employees in total were charged with misconduct in connection with the incident. Capt. Kelly Muniz said two officers were disciplined for their duties and two others were assigned “corrective action,” department lingo for additional training.

Details of the other disciplinary case had not been made public until Tuesday.

Under the current LAPD disciplinary system, officers facing suspension or even termination for misconduct can bring their cases before a closed-door court known as a Board of Rights. Disciplinary decisions are generally not announced until final disposition.

On June 30, 2021, the police department’s bomb squad botched the detonation of a large cache of fireworks discovered in the backyard of a home on 27th Street in South Los Angeles. The resulting blast ripped through the densely populated neighborhood, injuring 17 people and destroying dozens of homes, cars and businesses. More than 80 residents were displaced.

Two elderly residents who lived on the block and were among those displaced later died. Family members and activists have attributed their deaths to significant stress from the blast. Authorities said the two died of disease and natural causes.

An investigation of the incident by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms concluded that police misjudged the number of fireworks they placed in a containment container before detonating them.

Arturo Ceja III, a 26-year-old resident of the block, pleaded guilty in federal court last year to unlicensed transport of explosives from Nevada to California. Ceja told federal investigators that he had purchased the fireworks at a dealership called Area 51 in Pahrump, Nevada, and brought them to Los Angeles in rented vans and trucks for six or seven trips, according to a signed search warrant affidavit. by an ATF special agent. Blake MacLearnsberry.

After receiving a tip that someone was selling fireworks from a house on that block, members of the LAPD Bomb Squad and Major Crimes Unit detectives responded to the scene, according to the affidavit. A search of the property turned up more than 500 boxes containing approximately 5,000 pounds of commercial-grade fireworks, randomly stored in cardboard boxes under a tent, MacLearnsberry wrote in the affidavit.

MacLearnsberry wrote that officers were removing the explosives when a bomb squad supervisor decided that some homemade fireworks also found in the house were “unsafe to transport due to the risk of detonation in a densely populated area and therefore they would be destroyed on scene using a total containment vessel.” .”

But a subsequent investigation determined that LAPD explosives technicians accidentally loaded and detonated 39.8 pounds of explosives in the containment vehicle, more than the vessel could safely contain. This was done over the objections of one of the officers present, according to a report.

LAPD officials previously told The Times that the officers who caused the explosion must be held accountable. But Tuesday’s disclosure was the first public acknowledgment of specific discipline in the case. The officers involved have not yet been named; department officials say they are bound by privacy laws.

Since the incident, 89 people whose lives were affected by the blast have been moved to the Level Hotel downtown, which was paid for with taxpayer dollars.

Earlier this year, Councilor Curren Price sparked public outrage after he told a Times reporter that the dozens of displaced residents who still call the hotel home were “gameing the system a little bit.” Price later apologized for what he said were “insensitive” comments.

Since then, he has filed a motion authorizing $2.37 million in funding to continue supporting families living at the hotel because they are still homeless. He said his office was seeking additional funding to allow them to stay there “for an extended period of time” beyond a city deadline that ended last month.

Times Staff Writer Brittny Mejia contributed to this report.