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Criminal Justice

Feds Confirm South LA Fireworks Explosion Was Caused By LAPD Overloading Containment Vessel

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 a July 19 LAPD press conference on the preliminary findings of the investigation: (L) The damage to the total containment vessel; (R) Some of the damage to the surrounding community.
(Robert Garrova / LAist)
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Federal investigators have concluded the massive fireworks explosion that ripped through a South L.A. neighborhood on June 30 was caused by LAPD bomb technicians mistakenly overloading what’s called a total containment vessel (TCV).

That confirms preliminary findings from earlier this summer by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The incident occurred as the bomb squad was dealing with roughly 32,000 pounds of illegal fireworks found at a house on East 27th St.

According to the ATF’s partially redacted report, LAPD officers loaded “more than 39.85 Lbs. TNT equivalent of explosive material” into the TCV, a spherical, truck-mounted device that is supposed to allow for the safe detonation of explosives. But the TCV’s manufacturer rated the device for a single detonation of no more than “33.28 Lbs. TNT equivalent.”

In announcing the preliminary findings in July, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said the bomb squad estimated the weight of the fireworks by appearance, rather than using a scale.

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The result was an explosion that injured 27 people, including 18 civilians, eight LAPD officers, and an ATF agent, according to the report. The blast displaced dozens of local residents and caused severe damage to numerous homes and businesses.

'I Still Cannot Fathom' Eyeballing The Explosives

The containment vessel door “was propelled from its original location [and] travelled more than 1,000 feet” before landing in the backyard of a local home, the report says.

L.A. City Councilman Curren Price, who represents the neighborhood where the botched detonation happened, said in a statement that the ATF investigation confirmed “negligence” on the part of LAPD.

“As trained professionals in one of the largest police departments in America, I still cannot fathom how the LAPD thought it was acceptable to merely eyeball unstable explosives in the middle of a densely populated neighborhood,” Price said.

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At a community meeting to present the ATF’s findings Monday night, Moore said the LAPD’s “protocols, our training, our standards, were not strong enough and need to be improved,” according to the Los Angeles Times. He said several members of the bomb squad have been permanently removed from the team, the paper reported.

The LAPD released its own “After Action Report,” which recommends several measures, including increased training and better evacuation coordination.

Moore said at Monday night’s meeting that the department will no longer use a TCV to detonate illegal fireworks in residential areas, and it will require that all explosives designated for detonation be weighed first, according to the L.A. Times account. The chief also said the department continues to investigate the actions of the officers who were involved, though he declined to provide their names.

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Robert Garrova is reporting on the intersection of mental health and law enforcement.