West Sac’s Catch-22

Judge tosses suit against West Sac gang injunction but dodges constitutional issues

The controversial gang injunction in West Sacramento survived another legal challenge last week, though Yolo County Superior Court Judge Thomas Warriner essentially sidestepped the question of whether the sweeping new gang-suppression law is constitutional.

Last spring, the Yolo County district attorney and the West Sacramento Police Department were granted a permanent civil injunction against the so-called Broderick Boys street gang. The injunction imposes a lifetime curfew on gang members identified by the West Sacramento police. The injunction also prohibits alleged gang members from associating with each other in public inside a 3-square-mile “safety zone,” which encompasses the largely Latino neighborhoods of Broderick and Bryte.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Northern California Chapter, brought a suit against the injunction in August, arguing that the new law violated the constitutionally protected right to due process. (See “Round up the hood!” SN&R Cover, June 23; and “Fighting a clampdown,” SN&R News, August 4.)

All four of the ACLU’s clients in the case claim that they are not members of the Broderick Boys gang. (In fact, many West Sacramento residents say there is no such thing as the Broderick Boys and that local police and prosecutors have exaggerated the existence of the supposed gang.) And all said they received no notice that the gang injunction was being sought in the courts or that they would be subject to its restrictions.

But Judge Warriner ruled that the four had no standing to challenge the law, because they claim they are not gang members. The injunction “binds only defendant Broderick Boys and its members and authorized representatives” wrote Warriner in his ruling.

Furthermore, he ruled, “any person who is charged with criminal contempt for violating the terms of the injunction is entitled to the protection of numerous rights when defending such a charge.”

The judge’s logic exasperated opponents of the injunction. Jory Steele, an attorney with the ACLU, said, “Obviously, we vehemently disagree with the judge’s ruling. Our clients were indeed directly affected by the injunction.” Directly affected because they have been labeled as gang members by police and prosecutors and because—even though they deny gang membership—they nevertheless risk arrest if they are stopped by police after 10 p.m. in West Sacramento or if they are seen in public with anyone else identified as a Broderick Boy.

One of the main criticisms of the gang law is that it may unfairly sweep in people who had no real affiliation with gangs or gang crime.

“It’s highly unlikely that someone is going to come to court and say they are a gang member just to bring a due-process claim,” Steele said.

The ACLU plans to appeal the case to the state appeals court as soon as possible. But such an appeal could take a year or more to resolve.

Steele noted that in a gang injunction filed in October by prosecutors in the San Diego area, prosecutors named 104 alleged gang members individually and served all but a dozen of them notice that the injunction was being sought.

Although this process is a greater burden on prosecutors, Steele said it ensures that those who may be subject to a gang injunction have a right to show up in court to argue against it. In the West Sacramento case, only one alleged Broderick Boy was served notice before the injunction was approved by a local judge. The alleged gangster, Billy Wolfington, did not live in West Sacramento and did not appear in court before the injunction was granted.

Steele said the West Sacramento case could set a precedent for other prosecutors. “We’re not aware of any case in which only one person in the alleged gang was served notice. We’re afraid that this DA will call up his colleagues in other DA offices and tell them, ‘You don’t have to bother with due process.’”

Yolo County Deputy District Attorney Jeff Reisig, who is one of the main architects of the gang injunction in West Sacramento, did not respond to a request for comment from SN&R. In a prepared press statement, the district attorney gave the gang injunction credit for recent decreases in crime in West Sacramento.