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As Three Weeks of Testimony Conclude, Gang Injunction Trial Awaits Judge’s Decision

Both sides made their final arguments in the Santa Barbara gang injunction trial on Thursday, focusing on whether a gang nuisance exists and whether police already have the necessary tools to fight it. 

After listening to three weeks of testimony, Superior Court Judge Colleen Sterne now will decide whether to grant or deny a gang injunction to limit the activities of local criminal street gang members.

Assistant District Attorney Hilary Dozer argued for the plaintiffs, saying nuisance and crime activity by local gangs cause fear and intimidation in residents.

People who live in the proposed safety zones need relief and are often too afraid of retribution to come forward, witnesses have testified. During the trial, police presented crime maps and testified about violent gang-related assaults and homicides that have occurred in the city.

A proactive gang injunction “can help the community foster a healthy environment on the Eastside and Westside,” Dozer said. “It can give those kids, those children a chance to grow up and not be gang members.”

There’s constant graffiti tagging on buildings and bridges in some areas, and gatherings of gang members stop families from enjoying parks and other areas, Dozer said.

Wearing gang attire, flashing gang gestures and using gang graffiti are all forms of intimidation, and should be forbidden under the injunction, he argued. 

One of the proposed gang injunction provisions is to ban the named members from school grounds within the city.

“We shouldn’t have gangsters who are adults on school grounds,” Dozer said in his closing statements, calling schools “fertile grounds for recruitment.”

Deputy Public Defender Michael Hanley argued against the gang injunction as a whole, saying the plaintiffs haven’t shown proof of a substantial or unreasonable nuisance.

Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez has called the injunction another tool in the toolbox and Hanley argued the toolbox is already full of anti-gang law enforcement methods, which are being put to good use.

The defense said the Santa Barbara Police Department’s data and conclusions were flawed since it included crimes that aren’t typically associated with gangs, like curfew violations, tobacco violations and driving without a license.

“They’re crimes, but not really gang crimes,” Hanley said, adding that the only reason to include all these offenses is to generate more dots on the police map.

Dozer has argued that the Mexican Mafia is gaining a foothold in Santa Barbara County, but Hanley said the connections are “really fantastical.”

“There is scant evidence these gangs are sophisticated criminal enterprises answering to the Mexican Mafia,” Hanley said.

The defense team brought several residents to the stand who testified that there wasn’t a gang nuisance in the proposed safety zones, which include a large portion of the city.

Many of the injunction’s provisions are already illegal, or included in probation and parole terms, defense attorneys argued.

The “no association” clause has really concerned attorneys, who say named defendants will have to be on constant alert to avoid violating the order.

It gives field officers discretion to decide if people are associating with gang members, active participants or associates, Hanley said.

Many more people would be served with the gang injunction if it is approved, and the label could make it harder for gang members to “fade out” and stop gang activity when they get older, Hanley said.

Attorneys for individual named defendants said their clients are either serving time in prison or have already “faded out” of gang life. To be included in the injunction, authorities would have to prove these people are active gang members, attorneys said.

With the trial over, Sterne has the final say on the injunction. The decision is expected to take at least several weeks.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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