LA Times Story Divulges Names of LAPD Cops Who Blew Up Neighborhood in Fireworks Detonation

Via Public Domain Pictures
Public Domain

By The Vanguard

LOS ANGELES, CA – About two years ago, a blast in South Los Angeles—a police detonation of confiscated fireworks—destroyed much of the neighborhood, displacing and seriously injuring dozens of people, said the Los Angeles Times, noting the police culprits were unknown until now.

The Times said, “Before screaming ‘Fire in the hole’ and detonating a cache of confiscated fireworks on a residential street…Los Angeles Police Det. Damien Levesque (later moved out of the bomb squad—reassigned but not fired) repeatedly walked away from critical discussions about the safety of the operation.”

“Despite repeated demands from residents who lost their homes to the blast, Levesque’s name and formal discipline in the matter had largely remained veiled, thanks to the LAPD’s secretive disciplinary system and its refusal to discuss personnel matters. Other members of the LAPD who were involved in the disaster have also remained anonymous, their discipline under seal,” writes the Times.

“In the inspector general’s report, the bomb squad personnel on scene were referred to only by letter designations. However, through investigative records, court documents and interviews, The Times was able to determine their names and how the LAPD dealt with some of the officers involved. The Times corroborated the identity of each bomb tech with at least two sources close to the department,” The Times said earlier this month.

“Mell Hogg, the lead technician — aka Bomb Tech A — had been on the bomb squad for less than three years. Following standard bomb-squad practice, Hogg did not weigh the powder from the fireworks the team intended to detonate in the LAPD’s containment vessel and instead grossly underestimated its explosive power, according to the inspector general’s report. He is now with the department’s training division, according to a recent roster,” wrote the times.

The Times named “Mark Richardson — Bomb Tech B — helped Hogg X-ray samples of the explosives, the inspector general’s records show. Richardson still works in the emergency services division, which houses the bomb squad, but it is unclear in what role, and Brendan McCarty — Bomb Tech C — had 18 years of experience on the bomb squad and warned his fellow technicians and Levesque that the plan was not safe, the report said. McCarty has since retired from the force.”

The Times also identified “Thomas Deluccia — Bomb Tech D — arrived on scene that afternoon and helped load the commercial fireworks discovered at a home on East 27th Street onto pallets to transport away from the scene, the records state. Deluccia has also remained in the emergency services division, although it is unclear what his role is.

“And, finally, there was 12-year bomb squad veteran Stefanie Alcocer, or Bomb Tech E. Alcocer was primarily responsible for constructing a countercharge, the report shows, the explosive used to detonate the fireworks inside the department’s ‘total containment vessel,’ which failed in the blast. Alcocer was suspended for 10 days for her role in the incident, according to police officials. At some point after the blast, she was promoted to sergeant.”

The Times claims LAPD has refused to respond to a “detailed list of questions, saying in a statement that state law bars it from discussing discipline against individual officers in most cases. State law allows the department to name officers who use force that results in great bodily injury; although the blast seriously injured 17 people, the LAPD still has not named the officers.”

The inspector general’s office declined through a spokeswoman to comment on the names.

Four officers tied to the incident have been disciplined, according to the LAPD. But police officials declined to say whether those The Times identified were among the group facing consequences for the explosion. The only disciplinary action they’ve disclosed is Alcocer’s 10-day suspension, although they did not name her, said The Times.

The total cost of the blast to the city remains unclear, but it is estimated that Los Angeles has spent more than $5 million to settle claims and house residents whose homes were badly damaged, according to city records. More than 100 claims have not been settled.

The Times said a source familiar with the department’s investigation said at least some of the accused officers appeared before a disciplinary review panel, known as a board of rights. Officers appear before such panels when they are facing termination or if they request a panel review of lesser punishments such as suspension or demotion. The panels can — and often do — reduce punishments sought by police commanders.

“The results of those panels are unclear. Levesque and Deluccia declined to comment. McCarty did not respond to several requests for comment. Hogg and Richardson declined through the police union to respond to questions about the incident. When two Times reporters knocked on Alcocer’s door seeking comment, she denied she was the bomb squad tech and asked why the newspaper was pursuing the story. Officials later confirmed her identity,” wrote The Times.

The media outlet said Alcocer “insisted that accounts of the incident had been misleading and suggested the decision to explode the fireworks was not rushed and that officers had spent many hours formulating a plan. She ultimately declined to comment for the story but said she was concerned for the safety of her family if her identity was revealed.”

The Times wrote, “As recently as April, residents gathered outside LAPD headquarters to denounce Alcocer’s 10-day suspension as being too light. Among them was Rosalba Beltran, who is still living in a hotel. She held a sign with three demands: ‘Fire the officers, release their names, criminal charges now.’”

“We want to know the names of all of the officers responsible for this explosion,” Ron Gochez, a community organizer with Unión del Barrio who has helped organize residents, said at the protest. “If I do something bad in my job as a teacher, my name is going to be published, you’ll see my face on the news. Why are the police treated differently? They don’t protect our community, they protect themselves.”

“Of the bomb technicians on scene that day, Alcocer was the second most experienced. For years, Alcocer was the only female bomb tech who was with the unit full-time, according to a lawsuit she filed against the city alleging that she was sexually harassed by a male colleague whose advances she’d repeatedly rebuffed,” said The Time

In a 2013 interview with Marie Claire, she spoke of beating out 39 officers for her spot on the bomb squad. She described it as “an elite post that requires an intensive year of training.”

“We have a saying: ‘In order to beat the bomber, you have to make the bomb.’ I built a pipe bomb first; after that, I moved on to an improvised explosive device, or IED, by creating a circuit that led to the explosive, then attaching a timer,” she said in the interview. “Blowing things up gives me an adrenaline bump and always has.”

McCarty told investigators he recalled telling Alcocer: “I have a bad feeling … this is not good … this is too big.” Alcocer told him he needed to relax, he told the ATF, and that it would be OK.

Levesque told investigators that when he returned, no one brought any concerns to his attention that would have derailed or changed the plan. McCarty told investigators that he repeatedly warned that it was too much material and that the supervisor at one point told him to relax.

Deluccia appeared to play a minimal role in the detonation; Bomb Technician D is barely mentioned in the inspector general’s report about the incident. But he later told ATF investigators that he shared in McCarty’s concerns about the amount of explosives being detonated.

Bomb technicians at the scene believed that the maximum capability of the containment vessel was 40 pounds of net explosive weight, according to the inspector general’s report. But the vessel actually was rated to handle only 33 pounds of explosives.

The ATF would later determine that the bomb squad had loaded the vessel with 39.8 pounds of explosives. That amount includes the countercharge. 

The Times story said the resulting blast injured more than a dozen people — including eight LAPD officers, one ATF agent and at least six civilians — and damaged or destroyed 13 businesses, 22 residential properties and 37 vehicles, police have said. More than 80 people were displaced, and several are still living in a hotel.

The inspector general’s report later noted “a lack of active supervision” of bomb squad personnel that day. Levesque “took a hands-off approach to his duties in an attempt to make his subordinates feel more comfortable,” the report stated.

But a review of personnel records by The Times shows some in command that day have since moved up the ranks.

The Times said David Kowalski, a commander who oversaw the bomb unit at the time of the incident, “was later elevated to deputy chief. Capt. Brian Morrison, another supervisor who was present that day, has remained in the emergency services division. Bratcher, the incident commander, has swiftly risen up the captain ranks.”

“Life for the residents of 27th Street has not been as good. About 50 people are living in a hotel. Houses remain boarded up. Justice seems far away. From her hotel room this week, Beltran said she was pleased the officers responsible for the blast would be named, said The Times.

“They were ignoring us, like nothing had happened, like we meant nothing,” Beltran said to The Times. “They ignored us for two years, not even realizing all the damage they did to us.”

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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