Judge denies gang injunction
Judge denies gang injunction
WILMINGTON: Men believed to be members of Eastside Wilmas say they no longer have such affiliations.
By Denise Nix
In an unusual decision, a judge on Tuesday refused to place a civil injunction on a group of purported gang members in Wilmington, keeping the much-touted anti-crime tool out of use by authorities.
The City Attorney’s Office called Long Beach Superior Court Judge Margaret Hay’s ruling a “setback,” and said the case is not over.
Torrance attorney John Hachmeister, who represents four of the 17 defendants identified by authorities as Eastside Wilmas gang members, said it was his understanding that Hay found that the city of Los Angeles did not present sufficient evidence to warrant an injunction.
“I’m feeling pretty good because a blow got struck for the Constitution,” Hachmeister said.
Los Angeles is one of many cities nationwide that have won such injunctions against suspected street gang members in the past decade. City officials, including Mayor James Hahn, who filed the application for the Wilmington injunction while campaigning, say the injunctions are effective in fighting crime and making the streets safer.
But the controversial legal weapons have raised the ire of civil rights activists who claim the injunctions violate rights guaranteed by the Constitution, such as those of assembly and free speech.
Few judges have denied the injunctions, and those are generally cases where the purported gang members sought representation by an attorney, such as in the Wilmington case.
Hachmeister was asked to represent the members of the Eastside Wilmas gang, who were sued along with their rivals, the Westside Wilmas. The case against the Westside Wilmas is going forward and none of the 32 named defendants has attempted to fight it.
Hachmeister argued to Hay that his clients do not meet the gang criteria established by the California Supreme Court. He does not deny that they have had gang ties in the past, but contends his clients have proved that gang life is behind them.
A gang counselor in Wilmington who knows some of the alleged Eastside Wilmas members backs up Hachmeister’s argument, saying most of them are now hard-working family men.
The counselor, who asked that his name not be used, said he believes some of the injunctions have been successful in putting some gang members “in check,” but in some instances the accusations may be exaggerated or stale.
The injunctions, like the one being sought against Wilmington gangs, impose various restrictions on specifically named gang members. They include a curfew, a ban on associating with one another and a prohibition on using cell phones and pagers.
They also bar already illegal activities, such as drinking in public, use or possession of a controlled substance or drug paraphernalia and trespassing.
Deputy City Attorney Elizabeth Greenwood said Hay’s decision was not “fatal” to the case and that the city will correct the flaws Hay noted and present it to her again.