Who’s Being Served?
Continued from the previous page
Mayor’s iffy Op-Ed and PODER rally raise gang injunction jitters.
By Joe Donnelly
Oct. 28, 2013
anta Barbara’s proposed gang injunction may be months away from being heard by Superior Court Judge Colleen Sterne, but the controversial lawsuit is getting plenty of time in the court of public opinion.
Last Thursday night, more than 100 people gathered at Casa de la Raza for a spirited forum hosted by anti-injunction activists PODER (People Organized for the Defense and Equal Rights of Santa Barbara Youth). The PODER-sponsored event followed hot on the heels of an October 19 gathering of city councilmember Cathy Murillo’s Pro-Youth Movement. Both events put the city’s hoped-for restraining order against local gangs under the microscope.
The proposed injunction, a civil lawsuit filed by the Santa Barbara city attorney’s office and the county district attorney on behalf of the city council was first introduced in March 2011 (it has been amended twice). The matter, however, didn’t get a public airing until an overflow mid-May council meeting that was notable for a parade of opponents questioning the proposed injunction’s ethics and efficacy.
Both the Pro-Youth Movement and the October 24 PODER forums sought to clarify the scope of the civil complaint and to address growing concerns among some community members about the role the injunction might play in local law enforcement. A hot-button issue is whether or not the complaint—which seeks to enjoin (restrain) the Eastside and Westside gangs, 30 identified individuals and Does 1-300 from maintaining a public nuisance—will be more widely applied should Judge Sterne grant the action.
Looming over the Thursday gathering was an Op-Ed piece by Mayor Helene Schneider that appeared in that day’s Santa Barbara News-Press. Schneider, while chastising statements based on “a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts ” as “irresponsible and counterproductive,” claimed that, “specifically, the injunction creates a restraining order against 30 named adult individuals, prohibiting them from associating with each other in specific parts of the city. No one other than these 30 adults will be subject to the injunction… ”
Well, not quite.
Most people, including City Attorney Stephen Wiley and Chief Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer, whose offices are bringing the suit, read it differently. In separate conversations on Friday, both men clarified that if the injunction goes through as it is written—the judge has the power to accept, reject or significantly modify the complaint—law enforcement can serve whomever it believes meets the definition of an Eastside or Westside gang member engaged in gang activity.
As of now, the city and district attorney’s offices are solely making the case that the Eastside and Westside gangs exist and should be permanently enjoined from making a public nuisance, and that the 30 individuals named meet the definition of Eastside or Westside gang members and are, therefore, nuisances. For relief from the nuisance posed by the defendants, the city seeks to restrict their activities and civil liberties in so-called safety zones comprising a wide swath of downtown, beaches and parks.
While cautioning that any talk of what the injunction would or wouldn’t do is hypothetical as it has yet to be heard in court, Dozer conceded, “There is potentially a mechanism for having other individuals in the gang injunction.”
When asked about the mayor’s characterization of the injunction, attorney Tara Haaland-Ford, who is defending Edwin Miguel in the suit, said, “It’s not true at all.” For the injunction to be limited to the 30 named individuals Haaland-Ford said, “They would have to dismiss the Eastside and Westside gangs [as defendants].”
At a case management meeting before Judge Sterne on Monday, the city and district attorney’s offices said they plan on filing a request for a preliminary injunction by December, which the judge agreed to hear on March 17. The timing is a bit confusing because the permanent injunction hearing would have likely been heard close to that date anyway. The request for a temporary injunction could delay that trial. One reason may be that defense attorneys don’t get the same discovery process—whereby they can vet and request further information regarding evidence —that they will get for the permanent injunction trial.
n Friday, Wiley and Dozer both emphasized that if others are served in the future, authorities would have to prove to a judge that any further individuals named are active gang members. “The burden of proof is with the city and the district attorney’s offices,” said Wiley, who is retiring at the end of this year. “They will have as many rights and as many hearings as the first individuals.”
Since this is a civil matter, though, such individuals would have to provide for their own defense.
Judging by the complaint that will go before Judge Sterne, the definition of an active gang member is quite broad. Several of the named individuals have serious crimes attached to their names, including two murders and a handful of assaults, but many others are noted for having tattoos, wearing gang attire or displaying gang signs.
In July, the city and district attorney’s offices won the release of more than 5,000 juvenile records that officials say are important to making the case against individuals names in the suit. The inclusion of juvenile records in the suit had many at the PODER and Pro-Youth Movement meetings worried that juveniles will be caught in the injunction’s web should it pass muster in court.
Rachel Solomon, a public defender who works with juveniles, was among the featured speakers. “It’s very nourishing and inspiring to be here,” said Solomon, looking out at the capacity crowd. “I wish the kids I work with could be here to see how much love and concern there is in the community.”
The question of whether gang injunctions are ethical or effective has been much in the news lately as heated injunction debates have roiled neighborhoods in Los Angeles and Oakland. A gang injunction was imposed early this fall in the trendy Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. Some caught in its snare have said they quit the life years ago and are now being penalized for past actions and facing potential criminal charges for just going about their lives at a time when they are trying to live right. Echo Park reported 38 violent crimes through September of this year, according to the California Health Report, as opposed to more than 500 during the first nine months in 2003.
Recently in Santa Barbara, violent crime has been mostly trending downward since peaking in 2004 with 641 incidents, according to uniform crime-reporting statistics. There were 423 violent crimes reported in 2012 in Santa Barbara. There were no murders in Santa Barbara in 2011 and 2012. There have been two so far this year, one of which is considered to have been gang related.
Barry Krisberg, a senior fellow at the UC Berkeley School of Law, is a strident opponent of the measures. Regarding the debate over the Echo Park gang injunction, Krisberg told the Los Angeles Times that “no credible experts” believe gang injunctions reduce crime. “They are a huge waste of money. Most offenders are on probation and parole,” Krisberg told Mission and State via email.
Of course, not everyone agrees with Krisberg. A 2011 report in the Journal of Criminal Justice Research noted a modest reduction in police calls in a limited sample of California gang-injunction jurisdictions while allowing that other factors may be at work. Lompoc police have defended that city’s injunction as being an effective public safety tool.
Aside from what he believes is a lack of efficacy, Krisberg said, “Gang injunctions penalize associations similar to Jim Crow or apartheid laws. They are virtually always targeted at black and brown youth. The potential to engage in racial profiling is huge.”
When asked why injunctions haven’t been challenged more successfully, Krisberg added, “Community groups rarely have the financial resources to really challenge these atrocities. I have urged progressive legislators to ban them statewide.”
Haaland-Ford, who said defense attorneys will challenge the proposed injunction on constitutional grounds, noted that Santa Barbara’s gang injunction is one of the largest in California in terms of the geographic area it covers. If the permanent injunction goes through, she said it would penalize some who have worked hard to move beyond the gang stigma.
“Many of them are not doing anything now. They are working and raising families,” Haaland-Ford said. “People do change and they do age out… this is where they grew up.”
[On Oct. 29, 2013, Barry Krisberg's position was updated. In an earlier version of this story, the spelling of Tara Haaland-Ford's name was corrected.]