Injunction targets gang as a whole
Serving only a few members would reduce paperwork, official says, but some say it could violate rights. By Wendy Thomas Russell
May 15, 2004
Staff writerLONG BEACH — When federal prosecutors pursue injunctions against large corporations barring them from violating securities laws or sharing trade secrets, for example they rarely have trouble finding out who to serve.
Every corporation has an “agent for service of process’ on file with the secretary of state, and it’s that person’s job to communicate such information to company officials.
But filing for an injunction against a street gang is not that simple.
Gangs have no CEOs, corporate headquarters or agents for service of process. Prosecutors who attain gang injunctions which prohibit a litany of nuisance activities, from selling drugs to loitering can’t just phone an executive director and be assured that the gang’s biggest trouble-makers will be issued a memo.
Yet that’s the idea behind the Long Beach’s newest gang injunction against the West Side Longos, which is expected to be formally approved Tuesday by Long Beach Superior Court Judge Joseph DiLoreto. Instead of naming individual gang members, which has been done in the past and requires considerable paperwork, this injunction names only the gang itself.
In doing so, the 250 members of the West Side Longos are treated as an organized association, and four of its members are treated as “representatives’ of that association. The assumption is that these four members three of whom are now in prison will get the word out to the rest of the gang, says Long Beach City Prosecutor Tom Reeves.
“They have a pretty good grapevine,’ Reeves contends. “An excellent one, actually.’
Reeves’ new strategy, based on one employed by the Los Angeles city attorney’s office, reflects the ever-changing nature of gang injunctions. Hard data on the efficacy of such injunctions is difficult to come by, and prosecutors all over the state continue to operate on a learning curve, experts say.
“Despite (gang injunctions’) growing popularity in Southern California, some of these different variations are really reflecting a lot of untested territory,’ says Cheryl Maxson, a criminology professor at UC Irvine. “There’s a lot of experimenting going on.’
In Long Beach, there are four injunctions in place: against the West Side Longos (1995), the West Coast Crips (1997), the East Side Longos (2001) and the Insane Crips (2003). Reeves’ office has handled the latter two.
Reeves came under fire last year when he picked 11 people he said were the most active members of the Insane Crips to name in that injunction. Some of the members and their families opposed the injunction in court, contending that the list was inaccurate and outdated; five of those named were in prison at the time, opponents said, and some others had cut their ties with the gang. Reeves strongly backed the injunction, pointing out that the names were based on past crimes and a known history of gang relationships, but the controversy nonetheless marred the image of gang injunctions to some in the community.
Then, late last year, a Press- Telegram study found that the majority of the 44 gang members named in two Long Beach gang injunctions continued to commit crimes even after being served with the court orders a finding that called into question the ability of injunctions to stop crime.
But Reeves says his new strategy to name only the gang and not the gang members is not a response to any controversy or criticism. He says he’s confident that gang injunctions make the streets safer, and has talked to numerous citizens who feel the same way.
Rather, he says, the tactic is a way to bypass some of the complications that arise when he has to serve each gang member with paperwork.
When 10 or 20 gang members are part of the initial lawsuit, he says, each member must be located and served at least twice: first to be given notice that the suit was filed, then to be given notice that the injunction was approved. When a preliminary injunction is sought, another service of process is required.
“I’ve got a practical problem that I have to serve them,’ Reeves says. “In one of the injunctions, we had to serve 10 people three times, and these people are hard to find.
“It’s part of streamlining the process,’ he says, adding that both time and money is saved.
But Maxson says treating a few gang members as official representatives of the gang involves a somewhat-dubious presumption that these representatives will give adequate notice to the rest of the gang.
“What is the text of the message that (prosecutors) think is going to be conveyed?’ she asks. “And on what basis do they make that assumption?’
Assistant City Prosecutor Dan Murphy, who is handling the West Side Longos injunction, says the assumption is based on experts’ knowledge of gang interaction.
“They have a loose network,’ he says. “They do communicate both in prison and out of prison.’
The lawsuit, filed Jan. 12, also notes that this method of service already has been applied to the KKK, abortion protesters and labor unions.
“It is reasonable to conclude that service on any member of the West Side Longos will result in notice to the entire West Side Longos gang,’ the suit states.
If approved by DiLoreto this week, the permanent injunction would bar the West Side Longos from engaging in certain activity within a half-square-mile area bordered by the Terminal Island (103) Freeway, the Long Beach (710) Freeway, Hill Street and Pacific Coast Highway.
The activities, both legal and illegal, include associating with fellow gang members, drinking alcohol in public, obstructing walkways, intimidating residents, using hand signs and possessing instruments commonly used to break into vehicles.
The four alleged gang members served are Raudel Sandoval, 23; Daniel Alberto Perez, 22; James Gonzales, 20; and Juan Mendoza Olivas, 21.
Perez and Gonzales were serving sentences in California prisons at the time of the service. Sandoval was served in Los Angeles County jail, and Olivas was served at his apartment in Central Long Beach, outside the injunction’s target area.
So far, no one has opposed the lawsuit in court.
Serving the four members may be enough to win the permanent injunction, but it’s not enough to hold all individuals criminally responsible if they violate the injunction, experts and prosecutors say.
“The fact that we’ve got an injunction against a gang doesn’t affect individuals until they’re served with an order of the injunction,’ Reeves says.
That’s why, after the injunction is approved, individuals can be served, one by one, as the Long Beach Police Department sees fit.
“It’s left up to the gang detail to determine who is the most active, what gang member is causing nuisance activity in the area,’ Murphy says. “Then the gang unit would make a determination to serve that person.’
Once individuals have been served, it’s fair game to arrest and prosecute them criminally for contempt of court, Murphy says, even though their names never appear in the civil lawsuit.
Chief Anthony Batts, who has voiced his ambivalence about gang injunctions in the past, says he’s withholding judgment on them until he has a chance to further evaluate their crime- fighting role.
But he says he supports the newest injunction against the West Side Longos and sees no problem with Reeves’ new tactic.
“I think it’s an attempt to retool the process,’ he says, “to make the process more efficient.’
As for the Police Department’s role in choosing individuals to serve, Batts says that expectation sounds reasonable, given that gang detectives are constantly keeping tabs on active gang members anyway.
In Los Angeles, the new tactic has raised plenty of eyebrows from defense attorneys, who contend that gang members’ due-process rights are violated when they are served after the injunction has taken effect.
No appellate opinions have been published on the matter, but so far trial judges consistently have sided with prosecutors, Los Angeles attorneys say.