Tuesday, June 19 , 2018, 5:26 am | Fair 53º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Santa Barbara’s Proposed Gang Injunction Raises Community Concerns

Some of those named in the complaint say they've been unjustly targeted, while others question the approach and the potential effects

Santa Barbara county and city authorities researched a proposed gang injunction for months, but the language and restrictions of the documents only became public 48 hours after being filed in court. Now, various government agencies and community organizations are evaluating their involvement in the process from here on out.

City Attorney Stephen Wiley filed documents in March that, if granted by a Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge, would restrict the activities of 30 named Eastside and Westside gang members.

Gang injunctions have been implemented in California since the 1980s, and Los Angeles has more in place than any other city.

Community Impact

Authorities have said that the desired result of a gang injunction is not to arrest people for violating its terms, but to have another resource to deter gangs from committing crimes, violence and recruiting the city’s youth.

Movimiento Esperanza leader Jacqueline Inda said the communities most affected by gangs were never included in a conversation about possible solutions.

Inda and PALABRA are working with organizations, neighborhoods, families and groups of young people to evaluate the proposed gang injunction and educate the community about the potential effects.

No one except the District Attorney’s Office, the Santa Barbara Police Department and City Attorney’s Office knew what was in the injunction documents until after they were filed, and Inda said she is disappointed that community input was not a part of the process, which most likely would have asked for a comprehensive plan with more prevention programs.

“It’s an unfortunate process that we are in a city with such limited violence compared to other cities and our main focus is spending limited resources and funds on enforcement — when that hasn’t even worked in the last few years — instead of the intervention that we need to make a difference here,” Inda said. “We had Operation Gator Roll and there was a lot of peace and stabilization in the neighborhoods — for about a minute.”

Inda said she has been talking to people worried about the potentially negative effects that would have been brought up if there had been any community involvement. She said those concerns include parents not being able to participate in their child’s education because of being restricted from school grounds, people not being able to use public transportation since anyone else could be getting on at the next bus stop, and that there could be an impact to property values in the safety zones.

A half-dozen speakers implored city officials to consider the implications of the gang injunction at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Erica Cortez, who has a child in school and is pregnant with a second child, said the father of her children was targeted in the injunction, which she said would have serious effects on their family life. She said their family “would be broken apart” if the injunction goes through. “We will not even be able to take our children to the park,” she said.

Juan Herrada, executive director of PALABRA, talked about the campaign he’s organizing to educate the neighborhoods about the terms of the injunction. Another speaker, Patty Moreno, said she and her children’s father are listed on the injunction for crimes they committed 10 years ago.

Miguel Molina read a letter from one of the young men targeted by the injunction who is now a student at SBCC and hasn’t committed a crime in years.

“I have already paid my dues to society,” Molina read from the letter, adding that the young man was concerned that his ability to ride the bus to his classes might be compromised because of the injunction terms.

Santa Barbara County Injunctions

The other gang injunction in Santa Barbara County is in Lompoc, which Judge James Iwasko approved against the city’s Southside and Varrio Lamparas Primera — or Westside — gangs in 2006. Many of Santa Barbara’s proposed restrictions are ones that Iwasko took out of Lompoc’s — including no trespassing, no lookouts, staying away from alcohol — or were modified in wording, such as the “no association” condition.

Iwasko’s decision stated that the order should make it clear that the person knows he or she is associating with someone who is a gang member. Language was changed to target associations that a reasonable person would consider to be furthering gang nuisance activities, not innocent interactions with family or neighbors.

Lompoc’s permanent injunctions are against “current members” who have been active in the past five years, but don’t include specific names as Santa Barbara’s does.

The ACLU

The American Civil Liberties Union has challenged gang injunctions all over California, and ACLU-Southern California staff attorney Peter Bibring said Santa Barbara’s proposed injunction is fairly typical. He said the lack of a curfew makes it less restrictive, but the “enormous” proposed safety zones increase the chance of affecting protected, nongang activity.

Santa Barbara’s proposed injunction would include activities that are already illegal, such as selling drugs, and would criminalize behavior that is otherwise considered lawful, such as going to a public park or wearing certain items of clothing that could symbolize association with a gang.

The “no association” clauses often lack exceptions for family or innocent encounters, which “is an extraordinary intrusion on ordinary activities that have nothing to do with gang membership,” Bibring said.

Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez has said the injunction is just another tool for dealing with gangs and that more people most likely will be added to the list over time. Although authorities inferred they would go through a judicial process to add additional names, it doesn’t appear to be mandated from the injunction’s language.

Without those protections, Bibring said, law enforcement agencies could decide to add more names at their own discretion.

Opting Out of a Gang Injunction

Since injunctions are civil filings, defendants are not appointed an attorney, although they have the burden of proof to be excluded from the injunction.

A person must declare that he or she has renounced gang life and provide proof, including not having been arrested, getting new gang tattoos or claiming gang membership in the three years before filing the motion to “opt out.”

“Well, it took proof (for authorities) to say you’re a gang member, it’s going to take a little proof to say you’re not,” said Santa Barbara police Lt. Paul McCaffrey, a department spokesman.

“If a person was serious in their attempts to get out of the gang lifestyle and was serious in desiring not to have an injunctive provision, the court would probably bend over backward to make that process as streamlined as possible,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer said.

Dozer said the 30 named individuals were not selected lightly, but opt-out provisions are there if someone thinks the injunction shouldn’t apply to him or her.

“If they want a lawyer, that’s fine, but it’s not provided free of charge by the court,” he said. “There’s nothing about an injunction that puts the obligation on the court, county or city to provide counsel.”

The county Public Defender’s Office is still considering its level of involvement. The office represented some defendants during Lompoc’s injunction process, and many of the named people are current or past clients.

“All we’ve done is express willingness to contact the City Attorney’s Office on behalf of the people who contacted us who want more time to consider the situation, and it gives us more time to consider the situation,” said Public Defender Raimundo Montes de Oca, adding that they’ve asked for 30-day extensions to respond to the complaint.

Twelve of the 30 defendants had already contacted the office as of Tuesday night, but Montes de Oca said it’s unlikely the office would represent more than one or two individuals — if any — since the allegations are individualized and the cases are time and resource-intensive. The office will be looking at open cases and possible conflicts as well.

“We’re looking at, what is it going to take to deal with this particular issue? Are we the best to do it or is someone else?” he said.

The civil court cases are scheduled for a case management conference July 20 in front of Judge James Brown. The City Attorney’s Office will handle the case, although the injunction is a collaborative effort between the city attorney, police and the District Attorney’s Office.

Wiley did not return Noozhawk’s repeated calls for comment.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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