The city of Norwalk was granted an injunction Thursday against a notorious street gang accused of terrorizing a neighborhood by firebombing homes, harassing people, shooting weapons into the air and using drugs in public.
The injunction, one of the first used to combat gang violence in Los Angeles County, names 22 members of the Orange Street Locos gang and bars them from carrying weapons--including pipes, baseball bats and crowbars--in public places. It also prohibits them from blocking public thoroughfares, trespassing and destroying public property. In all, the court order restricts 19 separate acts. Violators could face up to six months in jail and $1,000 fines.
Norwalk Superior Court Judge Lois Anderson-Smaltz granted the city’s request after attorneys argued that the gang had turned the 20-square-block neighborhood, about a mile south of Norwalk City Hall, into a virtual war zone.
The decision was welcomed by residents in the neighborhood of small homes and apartment buildings where iron bars cover many windows. Some said they are afraid to venture out of their homes at night because of gang members loitering in streets and alleys.
“I’m glad the city took action,” said Armando Guzman, 44, who says that gang members make insulting comments, scrawl their names on the wall of his house and prowl through his yard at night. “They’re a pain.”
Anne Hardin hopes the crackdown will end the gunfire that she hears at least once a week. “I’m always afraid of that stray bullet when they start playing John Wayne,” said Hardin, 40, who walks her 6-year-old son to school less than a block away to protect him from the violence.
No gang members showed up for Thursday’s court hearing, but several reacted angrily to news of the injunction and rejected characterizations of them as violent hooligans. They blamed sheriff’s deputies and Norwalk public safety officers for causing them trouble.
“They harass us, stop us for any reason,” said a 19-year-old who is named in the court order but asked not to be identified. “They say if my record is clean, they’re gonna mess it up.”
Parents whose sons were named in court documents also criticized the action and said the neighborhood is a safe place to live. “Why are they focusing here? I don’t see too much of a problem,” said Steve Estrella, whose two sons, ages 18 and 20, were named in the injunction. “If they really wanted to help these kids, why not find them jobs?”
Deputy Dist. Atty. Deanne B. Ancker, who is representing Norwalk, said the city will probably seek similar sanctions against other troublesome gangs now that the court has approved this injunction. The Orange Street Locos, with about 60 members, is one of 11 gangs in the city, which has an estimated 2,500 gang members in all.
The court order follows successful efforts recently by Los Angeles and Burbank officials to win injunctions against entrenched gangs in their cities. In Los Angeles, a judge has upheld charges filed against at least one gang member arrested under similar terms of a court order there.
Ancker said the city decided to target the Orange Street Locos because of the intensity of the ongoing violence. Gang members are responsible for several firebombing incidents in recent years, including one in which an Orange Street Locos member recently pleaded no contest to arson charges, she said. The gang also has intimidated residents by firing guns into the air, breaking into cars, drinking in public and loitering, residents said.
“Sometimes, I don’t feel like going out alone because the cholos look at you like they’re going to do something,” said Aurora Alcantara, 18, whose front door was kicked in three years ago by gang members chasing a rival who had fled into her apartment.
The injunction seeks to end the problems by setting a 10 p.m. curfew for all members of the gang under 18 and a midnight curfew for adult members. It also prohibits them from blocking walkways and sidewalks, speeding down streets in their cars, entering abandoned buildings and being on rooftops without a legitimate reason.
The Orange Street Locos has proved to be one of most active and defiant gangs in Norwalk, authorities said. Orange Street Locos have been known to throw rocks and bottles at sheriff’s deputies.
Authorities hope the restrictions will send a message to the gang. “The idea is to stop the behavior, not to pick up all these kids and lock them in prison,” Ancker said. “We want to emphasize to them that we are watching them and that they need to stop terrorizing the citizens. Right now, they ignore laws because it’s rare that they get picked up and charged.”
The injunction was the first obtained under a year-old pilot program of the district attorney’s office and Norwalk to target troublesome gangs within the city.
Ancker said the number of gang members on the street has decreased in the month since the city initiated legal action against the gang. “Just by notifying them that they are being sued, they have disappeared,” Ancker said.
Orange Street Locos members are expected to be served with copies of the injunction next week and Ancker said additional copies will probably be posted in the neighborhood.
“We want to send a message out that we are not going to tolerate it anymore,” said City Manager Ernie Garcia. “This gives us another tool to get the attention of those who are not willing to obey our laws.”
Times correspondent Psyche Pascual contributed to this story.