Bomb techs erred in South Los Angeles explosion, says city police department chief

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Chief Moore in July 2018.
Image: Luke Harold.
Approximate location where the explosion happened

In a press conference Monday, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Chief Michel Moore said their department's preliminary investigation into a botched disposal of illegal fireworks on June 30 was due to an excess amount of explosives placed into a explosives disposal vehicle. The explosion occurred in South Los Angeles (L.A.), California, U.S. on East 27th Street, injuring seventeen and damaging vehicles and property.

Five members of LAPD's bomb squad have been removed from duty, said Moore.

On June 30, LAPD officers discovered a cache of over 32 thousand lb (14,500 kg) of illegal fireworks at a South L.A. residence. Bomb disposal technicians responded by placing an estimated 16.5 lb (7.5 kg) of explosives, into a "total containment vessel", or TCV, where they detonated the material. According to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), technicians actually detonated 42 lb (19 kg) of explosives. The vehicle failed to contain the explosion and the blast injured seventeen people and damaged thirteen nearby businesses, 22 residences, and 37 vehicles.

The TCV's capacity was 15 lb (6.8 kg) for repeated use, or 25 lb (11 kg) for single use, according to Moore. The containment truck had been used by officials for ten years, with the June 30 blast its 42nd usage.

ATF special agents are also investigating the LAPD's actions. They expect to complete their investigation in the next one to two months.

The owner of the home where the fireworks were discovered, 26-year-old Arturo Ceja III, was arrested by LAPD and apprehended on suspicion of unlawful possession of destructive devices and child endangerment. Fireworks are illegal to possess in the City of L.A., and in unincorporated areas of L.A. County. Ceja posted the US$500 thousand bail for release. He is due back in state court in October.

Federal prosecutors charged Ceja III with the illegal transportation of explosives without a license. Prosecutors allege that Ceja III purchased the fireworks from Area 51, a fireworks dealer in Pahrump, Nevada, on the border with California. He was released on US$25 thousand bond pending arraignment, scheduled for August 2.

L.A. Councilmember Curren Price, Jr. criticized the LAPD's bomb squad in a statement saying, "[i]t's clear there was negligence involved and this instance shows zero regard for the people that reside in our South LA community. Every individual that I have talked to including myself wonder if this would have been acceptable protocol in more affluent areas of the City."

The city opened a resource center for affected residents at the YMCA on East 28th Street, where residents can file claims against the city and receive referrals to mental health services.

On Tuesday L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer said his office received 56 claims against the city, saying, "We're trying to speed this up as much as we can [...] this is an all-hands-on-deck effort to make sure that anybody who suffered because of that explosion gets relief as fast as possible, because they deserve it".

Callers to Tuesday's L.A. Police Commission meeting called for the police department to make reparations to affected city residents and businesses. Moore told the commission there were over 200 applications for claims seeking assistance.