Local district attorney in Corpus Christi wants to create similar law preventing people from gathering
Saturday, Jul. 11, 1998
Court order aims to oust gang members
Local district attorney wants to create similar law preventing people from gathering
By JUAN B. ELIZONDO JR.
Associated Press/Corpus Christi Caller Times
AUSTIN – A judge has issued Texas’ first civil court order against alleged members of a gang, preventing them from doing such things as hanging out or using a pay telephone in an East Austin neighborhood.
State District Judge Wilford Flowers’ temporary restraining order, issued Friday, will last for two weeks while lawyers prepare to argue about a proposed court order meant to permanently prevent the so-called 2-3 Crips from operating in the neighborhood just north of Austin’s Mueller Airport.
(Nueces County District Attorney Carlos Valdez told the Caller-Times he’s interested in doing the same thing in Corpus Christi.
(“In fact, we’ve thought about it in the past,” Valdez said. “I’ve always said that we are going to use whatever means are available to us, and this is one of the things that we’ve considered in the past. We haven’t done it yet, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to do it. It’s another tool that’s available to us.”
(Last year, State District Judge Jack Hunter found a local youth gang operating in the La Armada area to be a public nuisance. “That’s really the first step in obtaining an injunction,” Valdez said.
(“But we never did anything, we never followed up on it mainly because they quieted down,” he said.
(Valdez said he would like to see whether the system instituted in Austin would be applicable here.)
Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle has said the seven people named in Friday’s order have sold drugs, committed other crimes, threatened neighbors and intimidated witnesses to their crimes in the roughly seven-block area from which they are now barred from even being seen together. Police have said traditional law enforcement measures have not worked to run the gang out of business.
Defense attorneys, including Donna Mulcahy of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Earle and police are violating their clients’ civil rights in an attempt to make their jobs easier.
Under the civil court order, prosecutors would not have to prove the alleged gang members committed a crime or were conspiring to commit a crime. Simply appearing in the neighborhood together, using a pager in the neighborhood or violating any other portion of the court order could land them in jail, the attorneys said.
“If the government prevails . . . their civil rights will be denied,” Mulcahy said.
Three of the seven alleged gang members, including its only female member, were in police custody on other matters. One other person, Lamar Hill, was removed from the case because he was not involved in the criminal activity, Assistant District Attorney Bryan Case said.
Earle, who was not present at Friday’s hearing, has compared the so-called “gang injunction” his office is seeking to restraint orders. Gang injunctions have been used successfully and have been held up by courts in California, Earle said last week.
Francis Williams Montenegro, an attorney for defendant Percy Prejean and a member of the alternative National Lawyer’s Guild, said the injunction is nothing like a restraining order. He said those orders are issued in criminal cases in which prosecutors have proved that the people restrained from some activity have committed serious crimes.
Montenegro said at least some of the alleged gang members have been convicted of minor crimes such as possession of drug paraphernalia.
“They are trying to sneak in a lower burden of proof,” Montenegro said of Earle’s office. “Are we willing to degrade our civil rights just because we can show a person has possessed drug paraphernalia or committed criminal trespass?”
Prejean said he is on probation for possession of a controlled substance. Montenegro said such a crime is not enough to limit Prejean’s rights to free speech and freedom of assembly.
Barrett Sundberg, a member of the neighborhood’s association, said what is being compromised is residents’ rights to liberty and freedom around their homes. He said while he doesn’t want civil rights infringed upon, “this is well within what’s acceptable.”
The seven alleged gang members are Prejean, Johnny Jefferson, Derrick LeBlanc, Ollie Nickols, Derrick Cathey, Shang Yahoshua and Connie Milner.
Jefferson and Nickols had not been informed of the hearing and were not present. LeBlanc did not have an attorney and was denied a publicly paid attorney for the civil matter.
Milner, Yahoshua and LeBlanc were in police custody.
Staff writer James A. Suydam contributed to this report. He can be reached at 886-3618.