Ruling keeps injunction on gangs for now

Ruling keeps injunction on gangs for now
Defense, prosecution get 10 days to comment before decision’s final

By Marjorie Hernandez, mhernandez@ VenturaCountyStar.com
April 23, 2005

Four weeks after the trial ended, a Ventura County Superior Court judge tentatively ruled Friday to maintain the gang injunction in Oxnard. The defense and prosecution have 10 days to comment before the decision becomes permanent. In his decision, Judge Frederick Bysshe says “the significant number of violent assaults, homicides, narcotics activity” caused by the defendant, Colonia Chiques, “created and have become a public nuisance, which on constitutional grounds, justifies” a permanent injunction.

Bysshe approved a temporary injunction on June 1, over a 6.6-square-mile area now known as a “safety zone” around Oxnard’s La Colonia area, which will remain unchanged, according to Friday’s decision. The decision is the result of a civil lawsuit brought against the gang members.

During the trial, Senior Deputy District Attorney Karen Wold said members of the Colonia Chiques gang were responsible for 40 homicides in Oxnard since 1992 and 147 assaults from 2000 to 2004.

As of Friday, 54 people have been charged with violating the temporary injunction, Wold said.

Colonia Chiques gang members served with the injunction cannot associate with other members, wear Dallas Cowboy attire, stay out past 10 p.m. or engage in other gang-related activities in the safety zone.

Those who are arrested for violating the injunction could face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

“We are extremely pleased with the decision,” Wold said Friday. “The judge has concluded that there is a need for it, and it will continue to protect the citizens who live in Oxnard.”

In his decision, Bysshe did include defense attorneys’ suggestions for an “opt-out” program. Bysshe, however, modified the suggestions, which would allow: ·

Gang members who want out to be relieved of the injunction terms in 24 months in a program supervised by the District Attorney’s Office.

· Alternatives such as “12 step programs” that would include free removal of tattoos, education and job assistance and support groups.

A gang member can participate in the opt-out program if he renounces the gang life completely and stays in the recovery program for 24 months to “become a productive member of society.”

Bysshe also wants the Oxnard Police Department to assist in developing the program that will help gang members leave the life.

“It appears that he incorporated some of our suggestions … and that our efforts were not in vain,” Senior Deputy Public Defender Neil Quinn said Friday. “We will see what the final decision is and evaluate our options at that point.” Community members who opposed the temporary injunction said the decision will only serve to provide more power to law enforcement officials who have already unfairly targeted innocent people.

“Some of the provisions in the injunction are drastically inhibiting people’s rights,” community activist Francisco Romero said. “It’s ridiculous to think this will be effective. I know the dangers of gang violence and the lifestyle, and I know it’s a problem, but this isn’t a solution. It’s a huge, huge mistake.”

Law enforcement officials in neighboring communities such as El Rio, Port Hueneme and Santa Paula said they have seen a slight increase in crime in their jurisdictions but could not attribute the increase directly to the injunction pushing crime into their communities.

El Rio has its share of gang problems, but it’s not clear it spills over from Oxnard, Undersheriff Craig Husband said.

“At this point, we don’t feel that it (an injunction) is necessary,” Husband said. “We do not have the high level of crime or rash of homicides like in Oxnard. They had to take extraordinary efforts to save lives. We haven’t experienced that level of violence.”

In October 2004, officials from the Port Hueneme Police Department presented a three-pronged plan to the City Council, which outlined the “intervention, prevention and suppression” of crime, Police Chief Fernando Estrella said. Estrella said there has been an increase in aggravated assaults in Port Hueneme but said it is too early to tell if the increase could be attributed to Oxnard’s injunction.

“Whatever the impact it will have, it’s already here,” Estrella said. “I look at the injunction as another resource tool for us to make the community as safe as it can be.”

Rather than immediately implementing an injunction to deal with the city’s gang problem, however, the Port Hueneme Police Department presented other options, such as establishing a violent crimes task force, a nuisance abatement program and educational programs for gang members, to city officials.

“You cannot just arrest your way out of a gang problem,” Estrella said. “We are also looking at other alternatives that will help us build more schools and not larger prisons for tomorrow.”

Residents in La Colonia had mixed reactions to Bysshe’s ruling.

Juanita Cortez, 66, said in Spanish that the injunction is a good thing to help rid the city of crime in light of all the homicides that have claimed the lives of young people.

“The success of the injunction remains to be seen,” Isabel Zavala, 77, said in Spanish.

— Staff writers Brandon Mackey and Angelica Martinez contributed to this report.

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