Three people were arrested in Desert Hot Springs after police allegedly found explosive devices known as molotov cocktails in their residence. Illustraion from Pixabay.
Illustration of an example of a Molotov cocktail. From Pixabay.

A gang member was sentenced Tuesday to 16 years in federal prison for orchestrating a racially motivated firebombing attack on Black families living in a Los Angeles housing project.

Carlos “Rider” Hernandez, 36, pleaded guilty two years ago to five felonies, including using fire and carrying explosives to commit a federal felony and conspiracy to violate civil rights.

The sentence will run concurrently with a 17-year state term Hernandez was given for an unrelated case in Riverside County seven years ago.

In the early morning hours of May 12, 2014, Hernandez and seven other members of an East Los Angeles street gang, which claimed the Ramona Gardens public housing complex as its turf, prepared Molotov cocktails, smashed the windows of four apartments and threw the lit explosives into the units.

The attack by the Hispanic street gang was meant to rid Ramona Gardens of its Black tenants, according to court documents.

Three of the four targeted apartments were occupied by Black families, including women and children, who were sleeping at the time of the unprovoked attacks. No one was injured.

At the time, Ramona Gardens’ residency was about 95% Hispanic and roughly 3% Black, court documents show.

The gang members — who all pleaded guilty — violated the civil rights of the families, specifically the constitutional right to live in a home free from “injury, intimidation and interference based on race,” federal prosecutors said.

Hernandez, of Boyle Heights, said in his plea agreement that the order for the racially motivated attack had come from the Mexican Mafia, a prison gang that controls the majority of Hispanic gangs in Southern California.

The indictment states that Hernandez told the others to break the victims’ windows, allowing the Molotov cocktails to make a clean entry, ignite the explosives and throw them inside in order to maximize damage. One of the victims, a mother sleeping on her couch with her infant child in her arms, narrowly missed being struck by one of the weapons.

“Hernandez told the other co-defendants who were present that the African-American victims were being targeted for firebombing because of their race,” according to the plea agreement, in which Hernandez admitted that he and the co-defendants “knew that throwing firebombs into occupied residences after midnight created a substantial likelihood of causing serious bodily injury.”

Hernandez pleaded guilty in April 2019 to conspiracy to violate civil rights, violent crime in aid of racketeering, using fire and carrying explosives to commit a federal felony, using and possessing a firearm in a crime of violence, and violating the Fair Housing Act.

The other defendants who were charged in 2016 pleaded guilty to federal hate crime and related offenses and were sentenced to prison terms of up to 12 years. All the defendants admitted they participated in the attack because of the victims’ skin color and with the intent to force them to move away from the federally funded housing project in Boyle Heights.

Hernandez has been in federal custody for more than six years, and will likely spend close to 22 years in federal custody as a result of the sentence Tuesday.

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