South L.A. man faces federal charges after LAPD detonates fireworks

Emergency responders gathered at the scene of the explosion in South Los Angeles on Wednesday.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Federal agents on Saturday arrested a South Los Angeles man on charges of illegally transporting explosives, including homemade fireworks that were detonated by police in a residential neighborhood, causing an explosion that damaged homes and injured 17 people.

Arturo Ceja III was arrested by ATF agents Saturday afternoon, federal officials said in a news release. He faces a charge of transporting explosives without a license and is expected to remain in custody until he appears in federal court on Tuesday, according to the statement.

Los Angeles police have come under heavy scrutiny for attempting to safely detonate the fireworks in the neighborhood after officers seized them from a South Los Angeles home Wednesday.

The LAPD is working with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to investigate the origin of the fireworks and review the officers’ actions.

Residents of the neighborhood have said police should have done more to protect the community before the fireworks were detonated.


Ceja was previously arrested by LAPD on suspicion of reckless or malicious possession of a destructive device after the fireworks were discovered. He was released on bond Thursday, before the arrest on federal charges.

An attorney for Ceja could not be immediately reached for comment.

The complaint filed against Ceja in federal court on Friday says he bought large amounts of commercial fireworks in late June from a retailer in Pahrump, Nev. The complaint also says he bought homemade fireworks from a man in the parking lot, then drove the fireworks to his home in South L.A. and stored them in his backyard.

“Ceja did not possess an ATF explosives license or permit of any kind that would authorize him to transport either aerial display fireworks or homemade fireworks made with explosive materials,” the complaint says.

Police had previously said that about 5,000 pounds of fireworks were found at Ceja’s home. In their news release Saturday, federal officials said that the ATF had determined that Ceja had about 32,000 pounds of fireworks in the yard.