Oxnard Gang Ruling Delayed

Judge hopes to balance concerns of activists and Colonia Chiques lawyers against those of prosecutors who sought an injunction.

By Holly J. Wolcott
Times Staff Writer

May 25, 2004

Calling it a delicate task of balancing public safety with individual rights, a Ventura County judge on Monday delayed ruling on an injunction that would bar Oxnard’s Colonia Chiques street gang from congregating in public.

After hearing from attorneys on both sides, Superior Court Judge Fred H. Bysshe took the case under submission and said that he would issue a ruling June 1.

Prosecutors and police are seeking the injunction to gain more leverage in cracking down on what authorities say is the largest and most violent gang in the county, one responsible for dozens of homicides.

If granted, the injunction would establish a 6.6-mile “safety zone” blanketing roughly half the city of Oxnard.

Gang members would be barred from engaging in numerous activities within the area, from flashing gang signs to wearing Dallas Cowboys attire to staying outside after 10 p.m.

Violators would face misdemeanor charges.

During Monday’s hearing, Bysshe said police needed more help in keeping a lid on gang violence.

“It is my concern that law enforcement may need additional tools to attempt to … suppress gang activity so that innocent citizens can live in a free and secure environment,” Bysshe said.

But if granted, the judge said, the injunction would be retooled to better define to whom it would apply — a major concern of defense attorneys and civil rights leaders.

Equally important to suppressing gang violence, Bysshe said, was that people who reside within the safety zone feel “they are not going to be unreasonably harassed or annoyed.”

Since Dist. Atty. Greg Totten and Oxnard Police Chief Art Lopez announced they were pursuing the injunction in late March, opponents have decried the request as potentially discriminatory, particularly because two-thirds of the city’s 186,000 residents are Latino.

Totten said after Monday’s hearing he was optimistic the injunction would be issued. Lopez said the mere request for the injunction had reduced violent crime by one-third within the safety zone during April.

“We know from what we’ve seen in other communities that these [injunctions] work,” Lopez said after the hearing.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Karen Wold, who drafted the injunction request, urged Bysshe to approve it, saying the community would suffer irreparable harm without it.

Authorities have linked the Chiques gang to more than 2,000 incidents of criminal activity over the years, including more than three dozen killings since 1992.

In court, Chiques defense attorneys Gabriella Navarro-Busch and John H. Hachmeister were denied requests to have the injunction dismissed or at least delayed to give them more time to research the more than 1,000 pages of prosecutorial pleadings filed in the case.

“The district attorney and the Oxnard Police Department are usurping the legislative process” by not allowing more public debate on the matter, Hachmeister argued in court.

In opposition papers, defense attorneys have contended that the injunction request was based on one-sided information from Oxnard police officers and that hundreds of alleged gang members who may be affected have not yet been identified by authorities.

Additionally, Navarro-Busch told the court she brought declarations from 42 residents living inside the proposed safety zone whom she said “don’t have this alleged fear” of Chiques gang members.

Bysshe denied her motion to file those documents with the court but indicated at the end of Monday’s hearing that he would hold another hearing 60 days after his ruling to hear testimony from witnesses on both sides.

Navarro-Busch also argued that the injunction would have enormous adverse effects on property values in the city.

“In essence, it’s creating a de facto ghetto, a gang zone,” Navarro-Busch told the judge.

At a news conference after the court hearing, community activist Francisco Romero said he was pleased that the judge would be taking a week to consider arguments against the injunction, saying police have painted an inaccurate picture of life in the working-class city.

“I have lived in that community for 28 years and my experience has been different than what is being portrayed by police in court documents,” said Romero, who heads the Oxnard chapter of the Committee on Raza Rights. “We feel there are sufficient tools in the Police Department’s toolbox already to deal with youth-on-youth violence.”

Times staff writer Fred Alvarez contributed to this report.

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