Gang Injunctions Trample Some Basic Rights
June 13, 2000 Tuesday,
By: O. RICARDO PIMENTEL, The Arizona Republic
We need an injunction that would prohibit all middle-age men from having any contact with children. After all, many pedophiles are middle-age men.
We should go to court to keep all those teenagers from consorting with one another. They get into so much trouble.
These, of course, are pretty silly ideas, a case of overgeneralizing in reaction to real problems. Worse, were we to do these things, we would be punishing folks on the mere suspicion that they will commit a crime.
And the same can be said for the city of Phoenix’s proposed civil injunction against alleged members of a gang called Los Cuatro Milpas in south Phoenix. Fortunately, a Superior Court judge denied the injunction last week.
At first glance, gang injunctions are noble notions. They’ve been upheld in various other places, including Southern California.
The complaint the city submitted in support of the injunction identified 14 members of the gang and alleged other unnamed members. It told the court of serious depredations occurring in Los Cuatro Milpas’ barrio.
This gang has allegedly been using and dealing drugs and committing armed robberies, burglaries, thefts, aggravated assaults, kidnappings, shootings and intimidation.
The problem: Among the defendants are at least two men who, their attorney says, have never been convicted of anything.
Tomas Padilla and Ruben Gonzalez are first cousins.
If the judge had approved this injunction, these two cousins would have been prohibited from “standing, walking, driving, gathering, or appearing anywhere in public view with any other defendant herein, or with any person known by the Defendant to be an LCM (Los Cuatro Milpas) member.”
Also among the items the injunction would have prohibited was selling or using drugs, public drunkenness, firing a gun, fighting in public and assaulting anyone who has complained of gang activity.
However, all of these things with the exception of hanging together are already against the law, in the context of gang activity.
People get arrested and convicted by the bushel for doing these things all over Phoenix. It’s not as if the cops don’t have remedies.
The truth is that the nut of the gang injunction is the part which prohibits gang members from associating with one another.
The cousins’ attorney, Stephen Montoya, made the case that this would prohibit them from even walking to church together, as, he said, they have done.
He disputed that they are, in fact, gang members.
But it wouldn’t matter to me if they were the baddest dudes in the barrio. If they haven’t been convicted of anything, we shouldn’t be punishing them by infringing on their rights of association.
Is it supposed to make a difference because it happens in civil court?
Much of the testimony against them was by police, who relied on sealed affidavits from neighbors. They were sealed, the police said, because the neighbors feared retaliation.
In other words, the cousins could not face their accusers.
Yet we want to tell them where they can go and who they can associate with.
Is it just me, or does this seem contrary to long-held and cherished freedoms?
One can’t help but sympathize with a neighborhood that feels under siege. But we simply can’t punish people because they might commit a crime.
In legal terms, they call this overreaching. In layman’s terms, it’s simply unjust.
The judge got it right.