Round up the hood!
West Sac police have put hundreds of citizens on a gang-suppression list. What if you’re not in a gang? Too bad.
Being a gang member is not a crime anywhere in the state of California. But being labeled as a gang member by police in West Sacramento, even if you insist you aren’t one, can cost you your freedoms of speech, travel and association.
The Yolo County district attorney has credited a controversial gang-suppression tactic with reducing violent crime in West Sacramento dramatically in the last few months. The “gang injunction,” as it is informally called, is aimed at the Broderick Boys, described by the district attorney as Yolo County’s most powerful and vicious street gang. “Residents live in constant fear of random violence breaking out at any moment on the streets, sidewalks and local parks in their neighborhood,” reads the district attorney’s complaint against the Broderick Boys.
But the anti-gang dragnet has swept up people who say they have no connection to gangs or gang crime.
For example, there is Mario Savala, a 45-year-old ex-boxer. He has tattoos, inked when he was 15 years old, that police consider gang tattoos. His criminal record in Yolo County adds up to misdemeanor possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia (a pipe for smoking pot).
Then there are Manuel Valencia III and Sergio Flores, two young men who have been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol but otherwise have no criminal records.
All were born and raised in the West Sacramento neighborhood of Broderick. But because of the gang injunction, they have lost their right to move freely in their own neighborhood, they aren’t allowed outside at night, and they could be locked up for associating with anyone else the police deem to be gang members. So far, police and prosecutors have refused to tell SN&R exactly why these individuals are on the list.
The West Sacramento gang injunction creates a 3-square-mile “safety zone” that encompasses the northern half of the city, in the older working-class neighborhoods of Broderick and Bryte. The broadly worded injunction imposes a 10 p.m.-to-sunrise curfew on those identified by the West Sacramento Police Department as members of the Broderick Boys street gang. The injunction also makes it illegal for those identified by the police as gang members to associate with each other in public.
Since the injunction was ordered by a Yolo County Superior Court judge in February, around 90 people have been served. It could spread to include hundreds more. The district attorney’s office says it knows of at least 300 Broderick Boys.
But none of these alleged Broderick Boys were given a day in court to contest the injunction or the allegations that they are gang members. And opponents of the gang injunction say it’s no coincidence that the gang crackdown comes at the same time as an influx of new, more affluent neighbors.
When Manuel Valencia III was 23 years old, he was caught driving under the influence of alcohol. He is still on probation for that crime.
Valencia has no gang-related crime on his record. He has no convictions on his record at all, aside from the DUI: no graffiti, no drugs, no robbery and no assault.
And yet, for reasons Valencia says are still a mystery to him, he was specifically targeted by the gang injunction.
According to his mother, Patricia Cano, who was visiting the house at the time, “They came with four SUVs and three undercover cars. They were all suited up in SWAT-team gear, like they were looking for mass murderers or something.”
Not finding Valencia at home, the police went looking for him at his job at the Blockbuster distribution warehouse on West Sacramento Avenue. “The officer said, ‘You’re being served. You are a known gang member.’ And I was like, ‘What?’”
Valencia likes to wear a red Budweiser beer cap, with a big “B” on it. The Budweiser B has appeared in police photographs as a recognized gang symbol, often incorporated into tattoos. Valencia said that, yes, the B could stand for Broderick. But he says there is a big difference between having pride in the place you are from and being a gangster.
“I’m sure there are people who are into that stuff. But it’s not me,” he said.
Valencia said he was told he could prove to police that he was no longer in the gang. But he said he wasn’t going to start this process, because that would mean having to admit he was a gang member in the first place.
More chilling for Valencia, he said he was told by one Yolo County district attorney that his name was being placed in what the attorney called a “terrorism database,” where it would remain for five years. A spokesperson for the West Sacramento Police Department, Lt. Dave Farmer, denied that people served with the gang injunction were being listed as potential terrorists. The Yolo County district attorney, David Henderson, did not return calls requesting an interview.
The gang criteria leave a lot of room for interpretation. The criteria used by the West Sacramento police to “validate” someone as being part of a gang include wearing gang colors. Red is the color associated with the Broderick Boys. Using gang signs can get you on the list. Like a virus, associating with other people who have been identified as gang members can get you listed as a gang member.
That gives the police enormous power to label people as gang members. “The clothes don’t make the man, you know,” said Valencia. “For them to come and speculate that I’m in some gang, it’s ridiculous.”
Sergio Flores is another 25-year-old with no gang tattoos and no record of gang crime. Like Valenica, he got a DUI back in 2004. And like Valencia, he insists that he has nothing to do with the Broderick Boys.
He said that in March, West Sacramento police came to serve him at his home in Sacramento. Flores wasn’t home at the time, but his wife let them in, and the police went through his personal belongings, he said. Flores said the police seemed particularly interested in a shirt that said “Nor Cal” on it. Nor Cal is a popular clothing line. Flores believes the police saw the Nor Cal shirt as evidence that Flores identified with the notorious “Norteño” gang.
The police then came to find Flores at work, in a warehouse in West Sacramento. “At first, I thought it had something to do with my DUI,” he said. But the police photographed him and handed him a copy of the injunction.
Like Valencia, Flores said he was stunned to learn he had been labeled a gang member. “It doesn’t make any sense. There are some bad guys out there, but I don’t know them.”
When asked if Flores knew any of the men specifically mentioned in the gang injunction, he said, “No, other than just to say hi to. I’ve never claimed any gang membership.”
He said that he tries to stay out of Broderick now, even though his family lives there.
“We’re afraid to go over there. We can’t even go to a barbecue at my mom’s house,” he explained.
The police came looking for Valencia and Flores. But Mario Savala was served with the gang injunction after a random encounter with the police.
Savala was born in Broderick and has spent most of his life in the neighborhood. In early March, he was on his way to the Lighthouse Market on C Street in West Sacramento to get some cooking oil. While crossing the parking lot, he saw that the West Sacramento police had broken up a fight between four men. Savala recognized two of the men and waved, shouting, “What’s up?”
Upon leaving the store, Savala said, he was stopped by the officers. “They started yelling, ‘Get on the ground! Get on the fucking ground!’”
Savala said the officers asked him if he was a “Broderick Boy,” and he said that he answered, “I was born and raised here.” They told him to sign a paper, which he said he didn’t understand. “They told me to sign it. I signed it. You’ve got to cooperate with the cops.” Later, he realized that he had been served a civil injunction, warning him to stay away from other members of the Broderick Boys.
“They wrote down, ‘Admits to being a Broderick Boy.’ But that’s not what I said,” Savala said.
He’s not allowed to drink a beer or be in the presence of someone with an open container of alcohol “anywhere in public or anyplace accessible to the public.” The injunction’s alcohol ban seems to include even a restaurant. “It says that in there?” Savala asked, stunned, during an interview in one West Sacramento watering hole. He’s not allowed to be outside anywhere in the safety zone between 10 p.m. and sunrise. He’s not allowed to associate in public with any other person labeled as a Broderick Boy, including some of his own relatives and other men he grew up with.
Is it because he murdered, robbed, intimidated witnesses or trafficked in narcotics? No, it seems to be because he wore a red shirt one day when he encountered the police. Because he has what police consider to be a gang tattoo.
Savala is no angel. He has had numerous run-ins with the law, mostly in Sacramento County. He’s done stints in county jail for possession of marijuana and speed—more than five years ago. But most of his criminal record revolves around a turbulent relationship with his ex-wife. Savala pleaded no contest to charges of domestic violence and admits, “I was an extremely jealous dude.” And court records show he violated a restraining order his ex-wife brought against him on several occasions.
Savala has fought his whole life. He and his friends from Broderick would cross the I Street Bridge and end up in fights with kids from the other side of the bridge. As a teenager, he was even stabbed during a fight with kids from Alkali Flat.
But as Savala got older, he began to focus his energy into boxing. In 1982, Savala won the title of flyweight champion of the North American Boxing Federation. He comes from a long line of boxers and Broderick boys. (See “Requiem for a featherweight” by Chrisanne Beckner [SN&R Cover; May 27, 2004], about Savala’s brother, Trino Savala.) But Savala has never been in prison and says he has mellowed out considerably in the past few years.
But he still has a tattoo, a Christian cross, with the words “Broderick” and “XIV” across the top of it. Savala said he got it when he was 15 years old. The tattoo is a red flag to police that Savala is a gang member. The case against the Broderick Boys refers several times to tattoos and graffiti that say Broderick or XIV. According to the police, XIV stands for the 14th letter of the alphabet, the letter N. That in turn stands for “Norte” or “Norteños,” a larger gang group that has spread throughout California prisons and ghettos.
But Savala said being a Broderick boy doesn’t mean what the police say it means. “It means family. It means people who grew up together and who take care of each other,” he said. Savala said that although he’s been in trouble with the law, he has never been involved in gang-related crime.
In Yolo County, where the police consider Savala an agent of the Broderick Boys, his criminal record is much shorter. There, he has been issued two misdemeanor tickets for possession of marijuana and on another occasion possessing a marijuana pipe.
“It just blew my mind when they said I admitted being a gang member. I ain’t no gangster,” Savala said. “Come on, man, I’m a grandfather.”
So far, the West Sacramento Police Department has refused to give any specific information about why certain individuals like Savala were included in the gang injunction. Like many of those whom SN&R spoke to about the injunction, Savala believes the crackdown has to do with the new development that’s occurring around the old neighborhood. “It’s all bullshit. They’re just trying to get the Raza out of the neighborhood,” Savala said.
The families in Broderick and Bryte go back generations. This is a tightly knit working-class community that suddenly has found itself sandwiched in between much more affluent new neighborhoods. According to the police and the district attorney, it also is a neighborhood held hostage by the Broderick Boys.
In making its case for the gang injunction, the Yolo County district attorney compiled a list of heinous crimes and notorious individuals. The case file is full of burly, shirtless Mexican men with elaborate gang tattoos. There are lurid tales of violent assaults and robberies against random victims, of gang fights and of systematic intimidation of residents in the name of the Broderick Boys.
Most of the men who are mentioned specifically in the injunction have been convicted of serious crimes—like manslaughter, drug trafficking and assault with a deadly weapon. And in many cases, these men received “gang enhancements,” which allow for harsher sentences for any crime committed as part of a gang.
But the district attorney argued that simply prosecuting gang members for crimes they committed isn’t enough—that extraordinary means are required to stop the Broderick Boys who “run amuck, shoot, beat, and rob people, sell narcotics and caper unrestrained throughout the Safety Zone.”
But the injunction is also open-ended, applying to a potentially endless list of individuals who may be added to the list as they are identified by the authorities—people who have no history of gang crime, or any criminal record at all. The district attorney’s office says it already has a list of more than 300 confirmed gang members, based on intelligence gathered by the West Sacramento Police Department. The police department says it has served around 90 of those individuals since February.
It also imposes a 10 p.m.-to-sunrise curfew on anyone identified as a gang member. It makes exceptions for people traveling on “legitimate business,” to or from a “legitimate meeting” or to or from a “legitimate entertainment activity.” But the injunction doesn’t specify which kinds of business or entertainment are legitimate and which aren’t.
The injunction specifically prohibits “standing, sitting, walking, gathering or appearing, anywhere in public view or anyplace accessible to the public, with any known member of the Broderick Boys.” It doesn’t prohibit Broderick Boys from associating with each other in a school or a church, but it does ban them from traveling together to these locations. That means two alleged gang members riding a school bus or city bus would be in violation of the injunction.
And officials from the district attorney’s office have been quoted in the local press saying that any gang members who appeared together at City Hall, to attend a rally to protest the injunction, ran the risk of being charged with a violation.
Ironically, being a gang member is not itself against the law. And you don’t have to have a criminal record to be deemed a gang member. But the penalty for each violation of the gang injunction is a fine of up to $1,000 or six months in jail.
So far, at least two alleged gang members have been charged with violating the injunction. The Yolo County public defender is working on behalf of Rudy Tafoya, who was caught violating the injunction’s curfew.
Public defender Josh Kaizuka plans to challenge the injunction on the grounds that Tafoya was never given notice of the injunction or given a chance to challenge it before it was granted by the judge.
“He was never told that a complaint had been filed that would deprive him of his liberty interests, his right to speech and to travel,” Kaizuka explained.
Critics of the measure say the injunction, even if it applied only to a few hardened criminals, denies people their “due process” rights under the U.S. Constitution. Attorneys for the Yolo County public defender’s office and the Northern California branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) complain that those served with the injunction have no chance to defend themselves against the allegations that they are gang members.
“Even if you have gang-related convictions on your record, there are constitutional protections that give you an opportunity to come to court,” Kaizuka said.
West Sacramento is not the first city to try to fight crime using a gang injunction.
In one of the most well-known cases, the ACLU fought and ultimately lost a battle against a gang injunction in San Jose. It’s the only such case so far to go all the way to the California Supreme Court, where, in 1997, it was upheld 4-3.
But that injunction was different from the West Sacramento version in two important ways. In San Jose, the injunction applied to an area of only a few square blocks. It was an area where none of the alleged gang members lived and where, presumably, they had no business being.
Kaizuka noted that in the San Jose case, “the court decided this was an ‘urban war zone.’ People were coming in from outside of the area, there snorting drugs off the hoods of their cars.”
“Is the city of West Sacramento an urban war zone? Are people afraid to come out of their houses? Are businesses closing down? No.”
And the San Jose gang injunction specifically named 28 individuals. Of those, 11 showed up in court to contest the injunction before it was granted.
The West Sacramento version covers a much larger area, potentially affecting hundreds of people. In West Sacramento, no specific defendants were named, only the Broderick Boys along with “Does 1 through 400.”
None of the alleged gang members mentioned in the case was personally served notice of the district attorney’s complaint against the Broderick Boys. Savala, Valencia and Flores were not given notice that the injunction was pending, and therefore they were given no opportunity to appear in court on their own behalf.
Instead, a month before the judge’s ruling, the district attorney notified one individual of the injunction, a man named Billy Wolfington, an alleged Broderick Boy who lived not in Broderick but in Rancho Cordova at the time. The district attorney argued that by picking Wolfington as a sort of “agent of service” for the criminal street gang, news of the injunction would travel throughout the Broderick Boys organization, and anyone who wanted to argue against it could appear at the court hearing.
But professor Mike Vitello of the McGeorge School of Law said he sees serious problems with the way the district attorney handled notifying those who might come under the rules of the injunction. He said there was only a “hope and a prayer” that an individual like Wolfington could or would really notify all gang members—and others who might not be gang members—that the injunction was coming.
“What if I wanted to come to court and say I’m not a part of this gang? What if I wanted to come and say this injunction is unconstitutional? This doesn’t let me do that,” Vitello explained. “To say this was adequate notice, to me, seems fanciful.”
ACLU attorney Alan Schlosser says the conditions of the gang injunction are very similar to the conditions of probation. But in the case of probation, a person needs to be convicted of a crime. “Here, [the police] don’t have to worry about gathering individualized evidence. They don’t have to worry about a public defender coming in and representing that person.”
Despite the picture of the Broderick Boys provided by the district attorney, not everyone believes there even is a Broderick Boys gang. Ted Allen, who works at the Lighthouse Market, where Savala was stopped and served with the gang injunction, calls the Broderick Boys “a myth.”
“There were Broderick Boys, back in the 1970s. Those guys are all like 50 now,” Allen said.
And others worry that it is too easy to get labeled a gangster. Jennifer Sandoval lives in Broderick and has all of her life. Some of her neighbors whom she has known for years have been served with the injunction. Today, Sandoval works as a receptionist in a doctor’s office and has four kids. Her life isn’t much different from that of working mothers in any other neighborhood. But she has a tattoo on her hand with three dots. “It’s for ‘mi vida loca,’” she said. “I got it when I was like 13,” after seeing the popular movie about Latina gangsters with some friends. She’s no gang member, she says, and she never was. But with the tattoo, and supposed gangsters for neighbors, “for all I know [the police] could come and serve me right now,” Sandoval said, with a laugh.
Martha Garcia leads an ad-hoc organization of Broderick residents, especially mothers and relatives of those served with the injunction, who are opposed to the injunction. She offered one popular theory about the motivation behind the gang injunction: It is about running the poor people out of West Sacramento.
“They don’t want us here,” Garcia said bluntly. During a meeting at Sandoval’s house in Broderick, Garcia motioned to the 15-foot-high wall that runs behind Sandoval’s backyard. On the other side of the wall is a new housing development. Most of the new houses there are selling for more than $500,000—some as much $800,000.
“They are saying, if you can’t buy a house like that, get out of here. Only wealthy Broderick Boys have the right to assemble,” Garcia said.
But the business community and area developers haven’t exactly been clamoring for this anti-gang crackdown.
Kay Fenrich, CEO of the West Sacramento Chamber of Commerce, said she was surprised to learn of the injunction.
“This seems like a very dramatic action for a community to take,” Fenrich said. “The gang injunction gives the impression that this situation is really out of hand. That was what was most surprising to us.”
The two Latinos on West Sacramento’s city council, Mayor Christopher Cabaldon and Councilman Oscar Villegas, said the notion that the gang injunction was somehow part of a push to gentrify West Sacramento is absurd.
“That’s crazy talk,” said Villegas, who has lived in West Sacramento, in the neighborhoods of Broderick and Bryte, all of his life. “Those are my people you are talking about. I would never be a part of that,” Villegas said.
But Villegas and Cabaldon also have reservations about the injunction.
“I have a healthy amount of skepticism about these kinds of injunctions,” said Cabaldon. “I don’t think we should be like the movie Minority Report, where we are arresting people because they might commit a crime.”
To Villegas, whose day job is directing the state’s mentoring programs for at-risk youths, the injunction came as a surprise. The district attorney relied heavily on the West Sacramento Police Department to make the case for the injunction but didn’t consult with the city’s elected leaders before going to court. “We found out about it the day before. It was a little frustrating,” Villegas said.
“I guess it struck a pretty sensitive chord with me, because that’s my neighborhood. That’s where I grew up. These are people I’ve known all my life,” said Villegas.
Both Villegas and Cabaldon were asked whether they preferred that the injunction had not happened, but they demurred.
“The fact is we have it,” said Cabaldon. “We are going to be watching like hawks to make sure it isn’t racial profiling and to make sure it’s being implemented in an enlightened way.”
The West Sacramento Police Department so far has blocked attempts by SN&R to ascertain why Savala, Valencia, Flores and others were served with the gang injunction.
In those cases where the police department specifically sought out individuals, like Valencia or Flores, there presumably is some logic, some sort of information or incident, that got these men targeted with the injunction. They each deny being part of a gang. But if the police department has some credible information that suggests otherwise, the department isn’t presenting it.
When asked why certain individuals, like Savala, Valencia, Flores and others, had been served with the injunction, West Sacramento Police Department spokesman Farmer would say only that they had met two or more of the criteria needed to be validated as gang members.
In attempts to discover how and why the injunction was being implemented in certain cases, SN&R asked for all public documents related to the cases of Savala, Flores, Valencia and several other supposed Broderick Boys. Farmer initially denied the request for this information, citing safety concerns for the individuals in question. A more formal request for public records relating to the gang injunction is still being reviewed by West Sacramento attorneys.
The Yolo County district attorney did not return any of several phone calls requesting an interview. The West Sacramento Police Department likewise declined to give interviews with either Police Chief Dan Drummond or the department’s gang expert, Detective Joe Villanueva.
“As you know, this is a very controversial issue,” explained Farmer. He said the police department was reviewing some of the criteria used to determine who should be served with the injunction. Farmer mused about one hypothetical case: “Let’s say you’re 50 years old, and you’ve got a tattoo that says Broderick. Maybe that shouldn’t be enough to get you served.” It’s off by about five years, but Farmer might be talking about Savala.
While the agency reviews how the gang injunction is being implemented, said Farmer, interviews with SN&R are out of the question.
“We are looking at it and trying to make some decisions. We don’t feel it needs to be in the papers right now.”