Compton seeks to restrict gang

The city cracks down on Mob Piru members and names rap mogul Marion ‘Suge’ Knight in its injunction.

By Paloma Esquivel, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
January 24, 2008

Seeking to further curb criminal activities, Compton has asked a judge to ban individuals identified as members of the Mob Piru street gang — including rap mogul Marion “Suge” Knight — from congregating in a northeast neighborhood.

Using a strategy employed by other crime-ridden communities, the court order would be the first gang injunction in a city with a long history of battling street gangs.

Authorities contend that the Mob Piru gang has terrorized the neighborhood for years, with buying and selling of drugs, discharging firearms, robbing and assaulting residents and by creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.

For the last two years, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department gang task force has worked to get gang members off the streets with aggressive enforcement of immigration, housing and parole violations.

“We’ve done it without an injunction,” said Lt. Paul Pietrantoni, who heads the task force. “We have the lowest murder rate in 20 years in Compton. The injunction is just going to give us one more tool.”

But the proposed injunction is expected to be controversial because community leaders and others say it opens the door to police harassment of innocent residents.

“What you find is that the whole community becomes terrorized by law enforcement,” said Kim Saunders, 45, a city planning commissioner who is also a teacher and a long-time community volunteer.

Knight, who is listed as a defendant, dismissed the injunction as “a publicity stunt.”

“This is crazy,” said Knight, co-founder of Death Row Records. “I’m a 42-year-old businessman, not a gang member. I don’t even live in Compton anymore . . . . This injunction names people who are already in jail — and at least one guy who is long dead.”

Henry “Hendog” Smith, who is also named in the injunction, was shot to death in 2002, according to news reports.

Mob Piru members have gained widespread notoriety for their alleged links to Knight and Death Row Records, once home to some of rap’s biggest names. But sheriff’s officials say the gang is on the decline.

“Years ago they were bigger,” Pietrantoni said. “Now they’re more victims than anything else.”

The injunction would create a huge “safety zone” in the neighborhood bounded by Bullis Road on the west, Pine Street on the north, Thorson Avenue on the east and Rosecrans Avenue on the south. It would ban the estimated 200 members of the gang from congregating, carrying guns, using gang gestures, spray-painting graffiti, fighting or drinking alcohol in public and staying out past 10 p.m.

Violators would be subject to arrest on misdemeanor charges, which could bring a $1,000 fine or up to one year in jail.

There are dozens of similar injunctions in place in cities throughout Southern California, including Los Angeles, Anaheim, Oxnard and Riverside. Los Angeles County has about 44 gang injunctions, according to the district attorney’s office.

The move against Mob Piru comes two years after Compton officials, faced with a rash of gang-related homicides, pledged to crack down on gangs.

“We are putting criminals and gang members on notice,” Mayor Eric J. Perrodin said at the time. “It’s time to pack your bags. Crime is not accepted in Compton.”

Since then, homicides have dropped by about half, according to city crime statistics.

A hearing is scheduled today for a temporary injunction to be put in place until the court can hear arguments for making it permanent. Despite the drop in violence, a gang injunction is still needed to fight a host of other gang offenses, officials said.

“You have everything from homicides to graffiti — it’s a whole range of activities,” said Deputy City Atty. Craig Cornwell. “We’re still very hopeful that the injunction is going to have a positive effect on the community.”

Whether it will is not clear, community members say.

Saunders, the planning commissioner, said deputies are already overly aggressive. Her son, a 21-year-old barber, “gets harassed every other day by police asking: ‘What set are you from?’ ‘What gang are you in?’ ‘Do you have a gun?’ ”

“Will a gang injunction make the community feel safer,” she said, “or will it make the community feel as if it is being harassed?”

The neighborhood named in the injunction encompasses a few blocks where tree-lined streets with single-family homes and two large apartment complexes sit side-by-side. A gated community of tract homes selling for half a million dollars is within its boundaries.

Outside a grocery store within the proposed “safety zone,” Rhonda Warren, 51, sat eating lunch Wednesday and preparing for her first day of work. Warren, who was born and raised in Watts and has lived in Compton for two years, said gang members are killing one another every day. She seemed resigned about the violence in her community.

“They’re going to do what they want to do anyway,” she said.

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