(NEW YORK) — On Mother’s Day two years ago, suspected members of the street gang “Big Hazard” gathered in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles to prepare for an attack, federal prosecutors allege.
When they met, they distributed disguises, gloves and other materials, according to an indictment unsealed Thursday. The group then split up, broke victims’ windows and threw Molotov cocktails into their homes.
The target was African-American families, and the goal was to drive them from the Ramona Gardens Housing Development (RGHD), according to officials.
Seven men were charged in connection to these crimes in the 10-count federal indictment.
In one of the attacks, a firebomb landed on the couch where an African-American woman and her baby had been sleeping.
“This is a hate crime. Such violence and intimidation have no place in our society,” said Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in a statement.
Carlos Hernandez, aka “Creeper and Rider”, 31, who is accused of organizing the attack, was charged, along with six other men, ages 21-25, with conspiracy to violate civil rights, conspiracy to use fire and carry explosives to commit another federal felony, attempted arson of federal property and other charges.
Hernandez allegedly told the defendants during the meeting before the attacks that the purpose of the firebombing was to “get the n—— out of the neighborhood,” or words to that effect, according to the indictment.
Most of the victims of the firebombing were African-American families who were at home with their children, according to investigators.
As of June 2016, Ramona Gardens was occupied by approximately 95 percent Hispanic residents and approximately 3 percent African-American residents, according to court documents.
This crime was “particularly disturbing” because the targets of the firebombing included children, said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker of the Central District of California.
“Crimes targeting innocent people based on the color of their skin are among the most heinous crimes a community can suffer,” she said in a statement.
In addition to the firebombing, the suspected gang members allegedly spray-painted their gang monikers and gang symbols on businesses, residences and property to instill fear and mark their territory, according to the indictment.
This two-year long investigation resulted in one of the largest civil rights indictments in local history, according to Assistant Director in Charge Deirdre Fike of the FBI’s Los Angeles Division.
The Hazard gang, which gets its name from a neighborhood park, had an estimated membership of approximately 350 individuals as of June 2016, according to the indictment.
The defendants were also charged with violent crime in aid of racketeering and interference with housing rights, among other charges.
Attorney information for Hernandez and the other defendants was not immediately available. It is unclear whether they have entered pleas to the charges against them.
If convicted of all counts, four of the men face a maximum sentence of 110 years in prison and one faces 115 year maximum. according to a press release from the Department of Justice. Two of the suspected gang members would face life sentences.
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