Families still displaced 8 months after LAPD explosion in South LA

Eight months after the Los Angeles Police Department bomb squad detonated illegal fireworks in a South Los Angeles neighborhood, families remain displaced.

The explosion happened on June 30, 2021, on 27th Street. According to a newly-released report from the LAPD Inspector General, the officers ignored safety warnings from one of their most experienced technicians. The member who raised concerns reportedly flagged both the volume and the weight of fireworks as excessive and too powerful. However, the fireworks were still detonated inside the LAPD containment vessel in the neighborhood. 

Jose Becerra and his family are among the displaced. Becerra and nine of his family members were inside their house when the explosion happened. Becerra said he remembers the front window shattering. Five of the nine family members were injured, including Becerra's two aunts, his uncle, his wife and himself. The house was purchased by Becerra's 85-year-old aunt 22 years ago. 

Since the explosion, the family has lived in a hotel.

"We are suffering a lot. It is very difficult to be in a hotel with all of us. There is no family integration and every day feels more like a nightmare. It is painful and frustrating to be living the way we are living," said Becerra in Spanish. 

The family is living in three separate rooms on different floors in the hotel. It is a lifestyle unlike the one they had while living on 27th street. 

"It is difficult to not have the security of when the house will be ready. Here, at the house,  we can basically be in the same room, taking care of each other and being in contact with each other, but there, at the hotel, we have to have only four people in one room, and we are separated," said Becerra's wife, Claudia Silva, in Spanish. 

The family said they are struggling mentally and financially.

"We have medical problems, emotional problems, financial problems, and family problems now," said Becerra. 

The family hired an attorney, Michael Alder of Alder Law, last year. Alder filed a claim with the City to start repairs on the house. As part of the claim, the City agreed to do the repairs, and pay for them. 

"The problem is they won't tell us anything regarding the specifics, so clearly there's no real incentive for them to do very much or do it with any kind of speed. It's been four months and there's very little done," said Alder. 

Alder said they remain in the "claim process." 

"While the City has accepted the claim, meaning they've accepted responsibility, other than some small payments, the claim is still outstanding. We've been asking them to help resolve these claims at some point quickly. They've indicated they don't want to settle this family's claim without settling the whole street which of course doesn't help our clients at all," Alder said.


Alder said the claims process is taking a long time. 

"We are requesting an expedited claims process but because [the City] accepted it, we haven't filed a lawsuit because we've got issues with filing on an accepted claim, but they're taking their sweet time," said Alder.

Councilmember Curren Price of District 9, representing that neighborhood, admits some repairs have been delayed.

"We're just asking them to be patient," Price said. "You're right. Some repairs are taking longer than planned. We got the OK's from some landlords late. They recently said, ‘OK fine, you can make those repairs,’ so that's what we started to do."

Price said their office has been trying to work with displaced families, and he wants accountability. 

"From day one, I indicated it was a bonehead act. We want to see some accountability, and we want to see some changes made and process and procedures, and we want individuals responsible to face disciplinary action, but that hasn't happened yet," said Price. 

Price said "around 20" families were displaced following the LAPD explosion. Eleven families are in hotels, and the City is paying for the cost of the hotels. Price said six families have either found housing elsewhere or completed repairs to their home, but the other families are still waiting for either repairs or affordable housing. Price said the City is currently working with eight families to determine the next steps for them while he said eleven families are "refusing service." 

"There are just challenges. Sometimes people are unresponsive. It's been difficult finding affordable housing. You have folks paying $1,000 a month where they were staying, and now the cost is significantly higher than that. Some of them have lawyers now. Some have immigration issues so that impacts where they can and can't live and some are indecisive because they're traumatized," said Price.

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Price said some families have asked the City to not begin repairs.  

"We're gonna continue making repairs on damaged properties. Some property owners are telling us ‘hands off, I have a lawyer,’ but others are letting us make some repair work," said Price.

Price said by June, the office will open a recovery center near 28th Street to provide a "convenient one-stop shop for businesses and neighbors." Price said their office is also paying for mental health services for the victims. 

"It should not have occurred in the first place, and they shouldn't be paying the price for a mistake made by the police," said Price.

When asked if repairs would be completed by the one-year mark, June 30, 2022, Price said that is the hope.  

"That's our hope, that we at least see a path. We know that there's some repair work that will be going on, but we want to get people placed into housing that want to be housed," he said.

Price said he is aware the LAPD Police Commission is reviewing the report from the Inspector General and he believes recommended changes will come following their review. 

"We still want to make sure there's some accountability, that those responsible face disciplinary action and that there are consequences," he said.

However, Becerra said their focus is making sure repairs are done to their home and he is losing confidence in the City.  

"All of the neighbors trusted the work of the City and now look at the result in our houses. No one trusts the City now," said Becerra.   

Becerra said he wants to be able to move back into their family home and live under one roof safely. 

"We are in bad shape. We are living in a hotel with uncertainty about how long we will be there. That is the truth," he said.

The illegal fireworks were seized from a home following a tip to LAPD. Arturo Ceja III, 26, pleaded guilty to transporting fireworks from Nevada to L.A., where they were confiscated by LAPD in the massive explosion. 

The report by Inspector General Mark Smith was published Friday, and the Police Commission was scheduled to discuss the report Tuesday.

Fox 11 contacted LAPD for a statement regarding the Inspector General Report, and received a response saying there was no comment at this time. 

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