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Before South LA Fireworks Explosion, A Concerned Bomb Tech Was Told To 'Relax'

Photos displayed at LAPD press conference on the preliminary findings of investigation into botched fireworks detonation: (L) The damage to total containment vessel is seen with before and after photos. The after photo shows a destroyed truck (R) Some of the damage from fireworks detonation to surrounding community. A destroyed van and a damaged coin laundry business are pictured.
Photos displayed at an LAPD press conference on the preliminary findings of the ATF investigation into the botched fireworks detonation: (L) The damage to total containment vessel (R) Some of the damage to the surrounding community.
(Robert Garrova / LAist)
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A bomb squad technician who was on the scene of a botched controlled explosion that caused major damage in South Los Angeles neighborhood last summer was reportedly told to “relax” after raising concerns about the operation, according to the latest report on the incident.

On June 30, 2021, the LAPD seized a 5,000-pound cache of illegal fireworks. That evening, police attempted to perform a controlled detonation of some of the fireworks in an armored container; ultimately, the container didn’t contain much.

Seventeen people were injured in the blast, which caused extensive damage to the neighborhood and displaced at least 75 residents.

The new report, by the Police Commission's inspector general, generally confirmed the findings of a report issued last September by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that the LAPD had overloaded the containment vessel.

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The inspector general's report said two bomb technicians “visually estimated” the weight of the payload. The pair then relayed that estimate to a third technician who used the projection to determine how many additional explosives would be needed to properly trigger a controlled detonation.

A fourth technician had told investigators from the ATF that he expressed concern about the plan, saying it was too much explosive material to detonate on site. He was then told repeatedly to “relax” by colleagues, according to the inspector general's report.

Following the release of the ATF's report last September, City Councilmember Curren Price Jr., who represents the neighborhood where the explosion happened, said he “cannot fathom” the decision to “merely eyeball” the fireworks before detonating them in a heavily-populated area.

Responding to the inspector general's report, Price released a statement on Monday saying that he's still “dumbfounded.”

“Since day one, I have asked for accountability and continue to insist that the individuals responsible for this disaster face appropriate disciplinary action,” he said. “The latest development clearly establishes what occurred was preventable and is highly inexcusable. I expect LAPD to follow through with policy changes so that this catastrophe never happens again anywhere in the City. We must learn from this epic failure. LAPD must do better.”

The inspector general’s report also blamed the incident on an overall lack of supervision and recommended new training for police bomb squad technicians.

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Corrected March 1, 2022 at 5:28 PM PST
A previous version of this story incorrectly gave the number of injured people as 17.