Gang members fight action
Gang members fight action
By Denise Nix
March 23, 2002
Four members of a Wilmington street gang are fighting the Los Angeles city attorney’s attempt to get a civil court injunction that would restrict some of their activities and make it illegal for them to associate with each other.
In an unusual move, the members of the Eastside Wilmas, who are among the 40 defendants named in a complaint filed in May, have enlisted Torrance attorney John Hachmeister to challenge provisions of the controversial legal weapon.
Across the nation, this kind of injunction has been successfully used in communities such as Redondo Beach and the Harbor City neighborhood of Los Angeles to fight street gangs and the crime that prosecutors say they inevitably bring with them.
This week, Hachmeister garnered a victory on a key issue — whether the city attorney can serve one member of the gang as a representative of the entire group, like an officer of a corporation. However, Long Beach Superior Court Judge Margaret Hay is allowing prosecutors another chance to show that the law permits them to serve one suspected gang member as a member of an association.
Hachmeister said during an interview that the issue will be important when it comes time for the City Attorney’s Office to argue for an injunction. If he prevails on this point, Hachmeister said, then his clients must be viewed by the court as individuals and not as members of a street gang.
The distinction is key because many of the activities that the proposed injunction seeks to prohibit are aimed at those committed by a gang; if the defendants are not associated with a gang, then Hachmeister eventually can argue that those provisions of the injunction should be removed.
“At which time, the city is left enjoining my clients from committing crimes — and everybody is under an injunction not to commit a crime,” Hachmeister said.
Assistant City Attorney Martin Vranicar said another problem prosecutors would have if they don’t prevail on the service issue is that it would be impossible for them to add new gang members to the injunction.
Vranicar said whichever way Hay eventually rules, the four gang members who are waging the legal battle will still be affected by a possible injunction. He speculated that they may be fighting prosecutors as a way to protect fellow gang members who are not yet named in the court proceedings.
If the gang members prevail, then they would not be connected with a “gang injunction,” but just an “injunction,” Hachmeister said.
“Two of my clients that I know of are actively avoiding the gang, trying to get out of the gang stigma and get themselves a real life,” Hachmeister said. “And so by removing the stigma, that will hopefully help them to be able to get away from the kind of life they’ve lived in the past.”
The matter is only being litigated on behalf of the Eastside Wilmas, although the city’s suit includes the gang’s rival, the Westside Wilmas. Vranicar said the injunction will proceed against all 32 of the Westside Wilmas members named as defendants because none of them responded to the complaint. A hearing for that gang is scheduled for next month.
The injunctions, like others already won by prosecutors, would prohibit gang members from using a controlled substance or possessing drug paraphernalia, trespassing, drinking in public and possessing weapons.
An injunction would also bar normally legal things such as associating with each other, using police scanners, doing repairs on cars in public view and approaching pedestrians or bicyclists while in a car. It would also place a midnight curfew on gangs.
Those caught violating the injunctions could face criminal charges, Vranicar said.
Los Angeles Police Department Capt. Andrew Smith of the Harbor Operations Support Division said the Wilmington gangs, by comparison to other Los Angeles gangs, are among the most active in terms of committing crimes.
Smith said a drive-by shooting early this week resulted in an innocent bystander being shot in the leg by someone police believe belongs to one of the gangs. In addition, a Westside Wilmas gang member was charged this week for a homicide that took place outside of Wilmington earlier this year, Smith said.
Gang members are also believed responsible for a slew of street robberies recently around Pacific Coast Highway and Avalon Boulevard, Smith added.
“Wilmington is not a horrible place . . .” Smith said. “But we’ve got some gangs there that are much more active than we’d like them to be.”
Hachmeister, who took the case on behalf of the gang members at a “greatly reduced price,” said he was doing it because he believes such injunctions violate rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
“I believe very strongly that there are a core basis of constitutional righ