Gang members notified of safety zones
March 15, 2008
Visalia police officers knocked on doors across Visalia Friday looking for suspected members of four street gangs.
But they weren’t at the homes to make arrests.
They were there to serve notices on about 70 men and women, notifying them a court order had been issued earlier in the day prohibiting them and about 470 other suspected gang members from gathering and engaging in other activities. Tulare County Superior Court Judge Lloyd Hicks granted earlier in the day a civil action seeking a temporary gang injunction against members of the North Side Visalia, Mexican Gangster Boys, Encina Street Riders and North Side Birdland Street gangs.
All are affiliated with Norteños, according to Visalia police.
Friday’s temporary injunction was the second Hicks has issued in a week. The first was against more than 250 members of the South Side Kings gang in Ivanhoe.
The Tulare County District Attorney’s Office sought the orders against both gangs based on claims that their criminal activities — including murders, shootings, robberies, drug sales and a laundry list of other crimes — constitute a “public nuisance” on Visalia’s north side.
Prosecutors sought the creation of “safety zones” where they would be barred from certain activities or risk being arrested. Those zones:
- South Side Kings — Anywhere in Ivanhoe.
- Norteños — A large swath of northern Visalia from just south of Lincoln Oval Park to north of “Birdland.”On Friday, prosecutors will return to court seeking a similar injunction against members of the Oriental Troops street gangs in the same north Visalia safe zone.A thick series of reports prepared by Visalia gang officers details the various crimes and activities performed by both gangs.
In one, Officer Luma Fahoum describes how many Norteño crimes on the north side go unreported because residents and business operators fear retaliation if they talk to police.
“I have personally investigated crimes … as heinous as murder or carjacking where the families of the victims refuse to cooperate with me,” Fahoum wrote. “The citizens and business owners within the safety zone live in fear and intimidation daily.”
A list of 20 accused Norteño members is included in the court documents. Two, Agapito Garza, 31, and Isaac Hinojos, 18, appeared at Friday’s hearing.
Gaza told Hicks he had filed a challenge because he no longer is a member of a Norteño clique. Neither Garza nor Hinojos spoke much in court, and they declined to speak with reporters after the hearing.
No one appeared in court claiming to represent the Norteños as a whole.
Hicks said anyone who wants to challenge his or her appearance on the injunction must file a challenge with the court before the May 5 trial. At that time he’ll consider granting a permanent injunction.
Besides barring the Norteños from gathering in public view anywhere in the safety zones — which includes hanging out in yards, driving together and even walking down the street together — there are additional prohibitions.
Among them, no intimidating witnesses, no possessing guns or weapons, no possessing drugs or open containers of alcohol, no spreading graffiti or possessing graffiti tools, and no forcing anyone to join the gang.
In addition, the temporary injunction establishes a curfew, from 10 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. daily, in the Visalia safety zone.
The injunction took effect when Hicks signed it. Visalia police — assisted by Tulare County Sheriff’s Department deputies and probation officers — began serving suspected Norteño members with notices of the temporary injunctions.
Once served, those identified as Norteños are subject to the injunction, District Attorney Phil Cline said at a press conference Friday afternoon in front of the Visalia Police Department’s new north side station.
Police Chief Bob Carden said that for the injunctions to work, residents will have to step up and report Norteño members congregating or violating the other provisions in the injunction.
“This is about families and neighborhoods,” Cline said. “We want to turn control to them.”
Carden said police may seek injunctions against Sureños in the city in the future.
“We can’t blanket the city. It’s too hard,” he said. “We’ve got to focus on the areas where the gangs have had the most impact on lives, and this is it.”
At lease one north-side resident believes the injunctions are overdue.
“They should have done that a long time ago,” said Hortencia Anguiano, 50, a mother of five with four grandchildren. “Too many shootings, too many stabbings.”