Judge makes injunctions permanent
January 12, 2002
Judge makes injunctions permanent
For the North County Times
VISTA —- In a legal move aimed at putting a lasting curb on gang violence in Escondido, a Vista Superior Court judge signed two permanent injunctions Friday that restrict the behavior of alleged members of the city’s two main street gangs.
Civil libertarians and some alleged gang members have criticized the anti-gang injunctions as violations of civil rights, but no one has formally challenged any of the injunctions being enacted in North County. A challenge would force a trail in civil court.
Escondido’s injunctions, invoked by Judge Joan Weber, name 43 alleged members of the Diablos and Westside gangs and basically restrict their conduct and appearance in what is considered the heart of each gang’s territory.
The civil-nuisance action bans the alleged gang members from gathering for one-to-one conversations in a public places, including business establishments, in two neighborhoods defined in court documents.
One neighborhood —- allegedly claimed by the Westside gang as part of its home territory —- is inside an area bounded generally by Third Avenue, Escondido Boulevard, 15th Avenue and Upas Street.
The other restricted zone is in the Diablos’ alleged territory and basically includes an area bordered by Broadway, Mission Avenue, East Valley Parkway and Rose Street.
The two injunctions include identical long lists of restrictions that were initially stipulated in temporary restraining orders issued July 13 in Vista Superior Court. The court orders also ban 43 people named in injunctions from flashing gang-related hand signs and wearing articles that convey their alleged gang affiliations in the two neighborhoods.
Escondido police Sgt. Neal Griffin, who supervises the Escondido Police Department’s Gang Team and Crimes of Violence Unit, hailed the civil-nuisance orders’ boost to permanent status as being “terrific news.”
“It’s done us a world of good,” Griffin said, referring to the court orders’ effect on enhancing the department’s ability to curtail gang activity.
“This is the most creative tool to combat crimes of violence in at least 10 years,” he said.
Case law from a series of court challenges elsewhere has vindicated the scope of the anti-gang injunctions that have been attained by the county district attorney’s office, said Susan Mazza, one of the two deputy district attorneys handling Escondido’s injunctions. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1997 refused to consider an appeal of a San Jose case on the defined-area injunction strategy, Mazza said.
However, a majority of the justices in a 1998 decision struck down an open-ended Chicago ordinance related to gang gatherings.
“Basically, the courts have determined that protecting individual freedom is a balancing act,” Mazza said. “You can’t have the rights of law-abiding citizens being violated by the illicit conduct of others.”
Escondido police have arrested 13 alleged gang members on suspicion of violating the now-superseded temporary restraining orders since they were issued in July.
Penalties for violating the court orders will remain in the same range as the ones for the temporary injunction —- a minimum 30 days community service to a maximum sentence of six months in jail, plus a $1,000 fine, deputy district attorneys said.
None of the alleged gang members or their legal representatives appeared in court Friday to challenge the injunction requests presented by Deputy District Attorneys Mazza and Terri Perez.
In granting the requests for public-nuisance restrictions against the two gangs in the two neighborhoods, Superior Court judges have found the gangs to be criminal associations —- as defined by state law —- that threaten the quality of life in neighborhoods where they pursue their activities.
According to Escondido police, the two gangs have been “at war” for years and are suspected of being involved in four homicides since 1999.
Mazza said similar anti-gang injunctions in Oceanside, San Marcos and San Diego in the last four years also are proving themselves effective in reducing gang violence, plus freeing neighborhoods and parks from the shroud of gang-control efforts.
In the two years before alleged members of Oceanside’s Posole gang were served with a geographically defined injunction in 1997, 10 suspected gang-related murders were committed in the city, Mazza said, noting that none has occurred since. The Barrio Mesa Locos, another Oceanside gang, also was targeted by a similar court order.
“Now, we have kids in the parks instead of gang members in the parks,” she said.
In Escondido, street gangs have been active for about 30 years “if not longer,” Griffin said.
The city was initially home to the Santos gang, which eventually evolved into the Diablos, police said. Friction in the Diablos gang during the mid-1980s resulted in a faction of its members splitting away to form the Westside gang, officers said.