Man gets 5 months in prison for transporting fireworks that LAPD detonated in botched disposal

A man walks down a ramp outside a home next to a gate with a sign that says "Destroyed by LAPD"
A worker exits a home on East 27th Street last year in South L.A. after the LAPD’s botched detonation of a cache of fireworks damaged homes and injured several people.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

A man whose cache of illegal fireworks in South L.A. brought out the LAPD bomb squad, whose bungled detonation blew up a residential neighborhood and injured 17 people last year, was sentenced Wednesday to five months in prison and two years of supervised release.

Arturo Ceja III, 27, pleaded guilty in August 2021 in federal court to the unlicensed transport of explosives from Nevada to California.

Ceja was not fined and will pay no restitution, the U.S. attorney’s office said.


Los Angeles police discovered Ceja’s stash in the backyard of a home on East 27th Street on June 30, 2021, after receiving a tip regarding illegal sales.

Along with input collected by The Times from local residents, a report by the LAPD’s inspector general helps paint a picture of how guesswork and a laissez-faire management style led to what it calls a “catastrophic failure.”

March 6, 2022

Among the 16 tons of explosive materials, police said, were homemade fireworks that were deemed too volatile to haul away from the home. Instead, they were put into a “total containment vessel” where they would be detonated on-site by the Los Angeles Police Department.

One technician raised concerns about the number of explosives being loaded into the vessel, according to an LAPD inspector general’s report released in March.

“This is too much to do one shot. We’re gonna break it up, right?” the technician recalled saying to a colleague.

The concerns were not heeded and the technician was told he should “relax,” according to the report.


As the bomb squad worked to quantify how much material needed to be disposed of, the lead technician skipped a crucial step, the inspector general noted: He did not weigh the explosives but only estimated.

A year after the LAPD blew up a South L.A. block with fireworks, 18 families are still living in a hotel, symbolizing failed city attempts to make them whole.

June 30, 2022

The vessel, rated to hold 33 pounds of explosives, was loaded with 39.8 pounds of material, investigators with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found.

When the materials were finally detonated, the results were catastrophic.

Foundations were cracked, windows were shattered and more than a dozen people suffered injuries, including cuts and hearing loss.

Over 30 properties were damaged and more than 80 residents were displaced.