Fighting a clampdown
The ACLU will battle in court against West Sacramento’s controversial ‘gang injunction’
The sweeping gang-suppression tools recently imposed by West Sacramento police and prosecutors came under fire last week—in the courts and at City Hall.
On Wednesday, July 27, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against a controversial “gang injunction” in Yolo County Superior Court. The ACLU says the measure denies hundreds of West Sacramento residents their constitutional right to due process of law.
Then, on Saturday, about 90 area residents—most opposed to the injunction—gathered at a town-hall meeting at West Sacramento’s City Hall and peppered Police Chief Dan Drummond and prosecutor Jeff Reisig with questions and criticism.
Reisig, a deputy district attorney for Yolo County, sought the injunction, and it was granted by a Superior Court judge in February this year. The order imposes a 10 p.m.-to-sunrise curfew on alleged gang members and prohibits them from associating in public places anywhere within a 3-square-mile area that authorities have dubbed the “safety zone,” which encompasses the older and largely Latino neighborhoods of Broderick and Bryte.
Since February, about 90 people have been served with the injunction, though many say they have no connection to gangs or gang crime and never had a chance to say so in court. See “Round up the Hood!” SN&R Cover, June 23.
The ACLU brought the lawsuit on behalf of four alleged Broderick Boys and asked the Yolo County Superior Court to void the injunction because the vast majority of people affected by the new rules were unaware that the injunction was before the court.
“A lifetime curfew for an adult is an extraordinary punishment,” said ACLU attorney Alan Schlosser. And yet, given the harsh restrictions contained in the injunction, only one of the 350 people that police say they have identified as members of the “Broderick Boys” street gang was served notice that the injunction was pending.
In one declaration to the court, Benjamin Juarez said that he had been in trouble with the police as a juvenile but had completed his probation two years ago. Now 24, Juarez has a steady job and has purchased a home with his wife and young son in the “safety zone.”
“Although I complied with all conditions of my juvenile probation, and in fact was released from probation early for ‘good behavior,’” Juarez explained in his statement, “the permanent injunction virtually imposes a lifetime of probation conditions for me.”
In another court declaration, West Sacramento resident Keith Edwards said, “Had I received advanced notice of the proceedings, and understood that the District Attorney believed that the injunction would apply to me, I would have made immediate efforts to contact an attorney so I could have been represented by legal counsel during any legal proceedings.”
Instead, only one alleged Broderick Boy was given notice of the injunction, and he lived in Rancho Cordova, far from the safety zone. “I think if people had their day in court, there would have been some serious legal challenges and some very different outcomes,” said Schlosser.
But Deputy District Attorney Reisig told SN&R that the Broderick Boys have an active communication network, through which the individual who was served notice of the injunction was able to spread word to the rest of the gang.
Reisig added that serving notice on each individual who would be subject to the injunction would have expended “a tremendous amount of resources.”
“The law simply doesn’t require us to do that. The judge even said it was OK,” added Reisig, who recently announced that he is running for Yolo County district attorney.
At the town-hall meeting on Saturday, July 30, Drummond introduced a form that could be filled out by those individuals who feel they were mistakenly identified as gang members.
But many are concerned that this “opt-out” form amounts to an admission that one is or was a gang member.
The form requires individuals who wish to be removed from the gang injunction to “renounce any actual or alleged membership or association with the Broderick Boys” and to promise not to “acquire new gang related tattoos” or wear clothing or paraphernalia associated with the gang.
“This reads like a confession to me. I really think this needs to be rethought,” Amanda Ridge told Drummond during the meeting.
Others complain that the rules impose a sort of guilty-until-proven-innocent standard for Latino youths in Broderick.
“Like we’re going to trust the police?” said Yolanda Ferguson, whose grandson was served with the gang injunction. “The police never came to us with regard to this injunction. Now the burden is on us to prove he shouldn’t be on their list,” she added.
Drummond touted statistics showing that there were 20 fewer incidents of violent crime in the “safety zone” between February and June this year compared with the same five-month period in 2004.
But many at the town-hall meeting said the injunction went far overboard in addressing the real crime problems in West Sacramento.
“I’m a lifelong resident, and I am here to say that I have never been terrified of my community,” said Marianne Estes.
And West Sacramento resident Jeff Roberts drew applause from the crowd when he asked, “When are they going to put up a sign saying, ‘Mexicans, don’t let your brown ass get caught here after sundown’?”
In order to more clearly ascertain how the gang injunction is being applied in individual cases, SN&R has filed public-records requests with the city of West Sacramento.
But city officials largely have denied those requests and so far have refused to provide a written explanation for doing so, as required by the California Public Records Act.
The police department has chosen at times to release the names and dates of birth of certain alleged gang members—in particular, 12 individuals who were arrested for violating the injunction. But after the town-hall meeting on Saturday, Drummond said that a complete list of people subject to the injunction—and any documented evidence that such individuals are in fact gang members—constituted police “intelligence” and would be withheld to protect any Broderick Boys from rival gang members.
“To get that information, you have to prove that you have the right to know and the need to know,” Drummond explained.