Judge Raps City Atty.’s bid to nuetralize gangs

December 11, 1987, Friday, Home Edition
By PAUL FELDMAN, Times Staff Writer

Citing constitutional flaws, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge Thursday strongly attacked the city attorney’s request for an order aimed at crippling the illicit activities of a violent Westside street gang.

While agreeing that “citizens in the (Cadillac-Corning) area are in effect held hostage” by members of the 200-plus-member Playboy Gangster Crips, Judge Warren H. Deering termed City Atty. James K. Hahn’s proposals “far, far overreaching.”

Deering, taking the case under submission, indicated that he would strike down many of the 24 provisions sought by Hahn against the gang, which is accused of intimidating residents and peddling drugs on the street and in apartments in the 26-block neighborhood bordered by La Cienega and Robertson boulevards, 18th Street and Cadillac Avenue. Deering’s final order on the preliminary injunction is expected to be issued today.

Hahn sought the following prohibitions against Playboy Gangsters involved in gang activities:

* Congregating in groups of two or more in public places.

* Remaining in public streets for more than five minutes at any time of day or night.

* Having visitors in their residences for periods of less than 10 minutes (a rule Hahn’s deputies said was aimed at combatting rock cocaine transactions).

Hahn also requested a dusk-to-dawn curfew for juvenile members of the gang.

Following an hourlong hearing, Deering declared that “many, many of these provisions violate basic constitutional liberties. . . . They are far, far overreaching.”

Without citing specific provisions, the judge also said several of Hahn’s proposals were “so poorly drafted” that he would not even attempt “to narrow them down.” In addition, Deering questioned the wisdom of imposing civil sanctions on gang members who “don’t even comply with probation terms after they are convicted of criminal offenses.”

“So how do you expect a court to enforce a (civil) order?” Deering asked Hahn’s deputies. “That would appear to have no deterrent effect at all.”

Besides, the judge added, civil court hearings would prove time-consuming and would provide for a meager maximum penalty — five-day jail sentences. “The question is, are you coming into a civil court and asking for some kind of sanction that isn’t really realistic?” Deering asked. “You should just go ahead and file a criminal charge.”

Prior to the hearing, Hahn had already scaled down his initial requests, which had included banning members of the gang from leaving their homes from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., wearing gang-style clothing or associating with each other in the Cadillac-Corning neighborhood. The modifications were made after Deering last month rejected a temporary restraining order, terming Hahn’s requests “too broad to grant.”

Would Ignore Order

No gang members appeared at the hearing. In past interviews, several neighborhood youths who identified themselves as Playboy Gangsters said they would ignore any civil court orders aimed at breaking up their gang or preventing them from selling drugs.

Hahn did attend the hearing, but sat in the audience, leaving the legal arguments to Deputy City Attys. Bruce Coplen and Robert A. Ferber.

Afterward, Hahn told reporters that he recognized the lawsuit would prove controversial but that he went forward anyway because “we need additional weapons to fight crime.”

Joan Howarth of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California praised Deering’s comments, saying she expects his order to be “everything that we wanted.”

The ACLU, which was allowed to enter the case in opposition to the city attorney’s office, contends that the proposals present “a serious infringement on personal liberty” in such areas as the rights to privacy and free assembly, Howarth testified at the hearing.

“We assume there’s a serious criminal problem” in the neighborhood, Howarth told the judge. “Our disagreement has only to do with the specific remedies sought here.”

Afterward, Howarth jabbed at such proposals as the 10-minute minimum visit to gang members’ residences. “It’s totally absurd. You’d have to somehow have your guests stay longer?”

Coplen, meanwhile, told the judge that civil sanctions would serve to supplement a continuing police crackdown, which has thus far proven insufficient to eradicate the gang’s illegal activities.

“I do not mean to suggest this court order will solve the problem in and of itself,” Coplen told the judge. “It’s an additional tool.”

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