An Orange County Superior Court judge Monday dissolved a temporary court order that had prohibited four-dozen members of a Westminster gang from associating with each other, saying it violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of privacy.
Judge Richard J. Beacom said he was sympathetic to Westminster’s effort to fight its growing gang problems but struck down the anti-gang ban as an “impermissible invasion of privacy” under the 1st Amendment.
The Westminster court order was one of a relatively few attempts in Southern California to crack down on gang members by making it illegal for them to commit normally legal acts. The Westminster order was significantly stronger than a well-publicized court order in effect against a Panorama City street gang because it banned even simple association.
Beacom granted a temporary order two months ago banning members of Westminster’s West Trece gang from “standing, sitting, walking, driving, gathering or appearing anywhere in public view” with each other in a 25-square-block area of Westminster. Anyone disobeying the order was subject to a charge of criminal contempt and subject to six months in jail if convicted.
On Monday, however, Beacom declined to make the order permanent, despite his belief that gang activity has put society “on the edge of anarchy . . . near a breaking point.”
Westminster city officials said they were disappointed by the ruling and might appeal.
Civil libertarians cheered the decision as an important affirmation of constitutional principles--even in a community wracked by violence.
Deputy Westminster Dist. Atty. John Anderson vowed that civil court orders “will be tried again” in Orange County.
Anderson said that although none of the defendants had been cited for violating the ban, gang activity in the area almost disappeared.
Said one of the defendants, Cesar Garcia, 18, an admitted member of the gang: “I knew they couldn’t take our rights like that . . . just to keep us from hanging out.”
The 22-point Panorama City injunction was granted in April by a Van Nuys Superior Court judge against 500 unnamed members of the Blythe Street gang at the request of the Los Angeles city attorney’s office. It makes it a crime for gang members to engage in activities such as standing on rooftops or possessing portable telephones.
An alleged Blythe Street gang member was convicted of violating the injunction last week for activities that included possessing a pager and a glass bottle. However, the judge who imposed the injunction has declined to rule on its constitutionality, as Beacom did in the Westminster case.
Citing rising county murder statistics and a weekend gang shooting in Stanton that left a 14-year-old boy dead, Beacom several times spoke directly and harshly to laughing defendants.
The young men, many with gang tattoos, sat in the back of the courtroom after being scanned by portable metal detectors.
“This is not an academic problem,” the judge said of gang violence on the streets outside the Santa Ana courthouse. “The harm that they’re doing is just incredible.”