East LA gang member who led firebomb attacks on African American families sentenced to 16 years

An east Los Angeles gang member who orchestrated and executed nighttime firebombing of African American families was sentenced Wednesday to 16 years in federal prison.

Carlos Hernandez, 36, aka "Rider" and "Creeper," was a senior member of the Big Hazard street gang, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.

Prosecutors said the gang threw Molotov cocktails into the Ramona Gardens Housing Development in Boyle Heights in 2014 in order to force the African American residents out of their homes.

During the hearing, District Judge Christina A. Snyder explained that her sentence was intended to "send a message to the community that hate crimes will not be tolerated" and that this was "not a time for any court to tolerate hate crimes."

Hernandez pleaded guilty in April 2019 to five felony counts, including conspiracy to violate civil rights, violent crime in aid of racketeering, criminal interference with fair housing rights, use of fire in the commission of a federal felony, and carrying a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence.

"The defendants in this case perpetrated hate crimes that targeted innocent victims in their homes simply because of their skin color," said Acting United States Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison. "These despicable acts are simply unacceptable in our society. We are committed to protecting everyone’s civil rights, and anyone who participates in this type of conduct will find that the federal government will marshal all of its resources to ensure they are brought to justice."

In the night hours of May 11, 2014, which was Mother’s Day, Hernandez organized and led seven co-defendants – all members of the Big Hazard street gang – in a plan to firebomb several apartments in the Ramona Gardens housing complex. Hernandez and his co-defendants targeted each of the residences because African Americans lived there.

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Hernandez divided the defendants into groups to carry out the firebombings, assigned each defendant a specific role within those groups, and provided various defendants with a lighter or hammer to be used in the attacks, as well as masks to conceal their identities.

The defendants stashed their cell phones to prevent law enforcement tracking and traveled a predetermined route designed to evade surveillance cameras. Heightening the dangerousness of the attacks, Hernandez armed himself with a semiautomatic handgun.

Once the gang members located the targeted apartments, they smashed the windows of four apartments to allow for cleaner entry of the firebombs to maximize damage. Hernandez and his co-defendants then threw lit Molotov cocktails into the residences. Three of the four targeted apartments were occupied by African American families who were sleeping at the time of the unprovoked attack. A mother who was sleeping with her infant baby on her chest at the time of the attack barely evaded being hit by a firebomb when she rolled off the couch with her baby after hearing a window shatter.

All of the defendants who participated in the firebombing were charged in 2016 and have pleaded guilty to federal hate crime and related offenses. Those defendants all admitted that they participated in the firebombing attacks because of the victims’ race and color and with the intent to force the victims to move away from the federally funded housing complex.

Wednesday's sentencing hearing follows the sentencings of several other defendants in this case: Jose Saucedo, aka "Lil Mo," who was ordered to serve 156 months; Josue Garibay, aka "Malo," who received a 12-year sentence; Jonathan Portillo, aka "Pelon," sentenced to 63 months; Francisco Farias, aka "Bones," who was ordered to serve 42 months; and Edwin Felix, aka "Boogie," who received a 92-month sentence.