S.F. attorney wants to create gang-free zone
First in city would put 4 blocks of Hunters Point off-limits
Demian Bulwa and Carrie Sturrock, Chronicle Staff Writers
Monday, October 23, 2006
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera is seeking the city’s first civil injunction against a street gang, asserting that a court order is needed to protect Bayview-Hunters Point residents from criminals who commute there to sell drugs and kill rivals and witnesses.
Herrera wants Oakdale Mob members, who allegedly terrorize the public housing development known as Oakdale, to face jail time if they’re outside after 10 p.m. or hang out together in public in a four-block “safety zone.”
The injunction also would bar them from committing a variety of crimes such as trespassing, intimidating witnesses, painting graffiti and stashing guns in bushes and crawl spaces.
Similar injunctions have been used for more than two decades in cities across the country, including Los Angeles, San Jose and West Sacramento, where they have fueled passionate debate between law enforcement officials and civil rights advocates.
Herrera, who in December announced his intention to seek gang injunctions, said Sunday that they are an extension of his duty to stamp out public nuisances. He said he was responding to a raft of complaints from residents affected by recent surges of violence. There were 96 homicides last year in San Francisco, a 10-year high.
“The Oakdale Mob is a public menace that has terrorized the community for too long with murders, carjackings, robberies and drug dealing, and the community is demanding a response,” said Herrera, whose plan was unanimously supported by the Board of Supervisors in April.
Herrera sued the Oakdale Mob as a business — albeit one without a license — on Sept. 27 and served legal notice to three of 22 men he named in his complaint. A hearing on his request for a temporary injunction in the case is set for Oct. 30.
Michael Risher, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney, said Sunday that his group may help fight the injunction, though he said Herrera’s request is “limited in scope.” In some cities, injunctions have covered wide geographic areas and outlawed even the use of pagers.
Risher said proponents of such measures have not proved them effective.
“If the authorities are convinced (the alleged gang members) are committing crimes, they have every right to arrest them for those crimes,” Risher said. “That’s the traditional way we approach crime, and it does afford people a presumption of innocence.”
The key benefit of an injunction is that it can prevent crime from happening at all, said Deputy City Attorney Machaela Hoctor.
Critics of gang injunctions have said those named in court orders have had difficulty removing their names, and have had trouble getting jobs and turning their lives around.
The California Supreme Court upheld the use of gang injunctions in 1997, ruling that San Jose could use the tactic in the Rocksprings neighborhood.
Some studies have revealed modest success, at least in the short term. A UCLA professor, for instance, found that violent crime decreased from between 5 percent to 10 percent in the first year after gang injunctions were imposed in 14 Los Angeles County locations targeted between 1993 and 1998.
The “safety zone” outlined in the San Francisco complaint is bounded by Navy Road, Griffith Street, Palou Avenue and Ingalls Street. It includes, among other residences, the 133-unit Oakdale public housing development, three-story cream buildings with blue trim.
In the neighborhood on Sunday, as kids played outside and adults fixed cars or waited for the bus — and police cruisers frequently passed by — 60-year-old Robert Stokes said the injunction would be good for everyone.
“To put it mildly, they’re junior gangsters,” said Stokes, who grew up in the neighborhood near the Oakdale development. “When I see them coming I go the other way. Anything the city can do would be good. … Even if you discourage one of them it’s worth it.”
At the same time, Stokes said, parents must take more responsibility for raising children who avoid gangs. He said city officials should play a role but cannot go too far.
“You can’t be sacrificing civil rights for the greater good,” he said.
Two streets over, Ron Newt, 60, had a different opinion. The Oakdale Mob, he said, isn’t a dangerous gang but a bunch of kids who are 12 and 13 years old. If city officials want to make the neighborhood safer, he said, they should help people get jobs and create more programs for kids.
“These are wannabes. This is a shell now,” Newt said. “These are not bad kids. … This is a political move.”
Herrera did not announce the case publicly until a Bayview community activist wrote about it late last week. Herrera said he had planned to wait for the judge’s ruling to make an announcement.
The alleged gang members missed a deadline Wednesday to respond to the government action. In some gang injunctions, the accused never show up to defend themselves. And there is no legal requirement that they be represented.
“I certainly hope that the court will appoint counsel to represent not only the people who have been named, but people they may name in the future,” Risher said.
The lawsuit alleges the gang has about 50 members who are suspects in at least 12 murders in the past three years, Hoctor said. All but one lives outside the neighborhood and commutes from Fairfield, Vallejo and Daly City, where some have bought homes, she said.
In the court papers, Hoctor included pages of allegations against each accused member, including one who allegedly brandished an assault weapon in a low-budget documentary.
If the court order is put in place and an alleged gang member violates it, Hoctor said, that person could be held in civil contempt and jailed for up to five days for each violation, or charged with a misdemeanor and sentenced to up to six months.
The alleged gang members include Deonte Bennett and Daniel Dennard, who were indicted this year for murder and attempted murder in a September 2005 Bayview district shooting that killed a man and injured a bystander.
The bystander, Terrell Rollins, became the key witness in the case but was later shot dead by masked men in what authorities and family members fear was retaliation for his cooperation. He was 22.
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