Several Oxnard civil rights groups announced Wednesday they have formed a coalition to oppose an anti-gang injunction because of fears it would give police too much power, and asked federal authorities to mediate disputes among local law enforcement, community leaders and the Colonia Chiques street gang.
As representatives gathered outside the Oxnard police station to address reporters, prosecutors filed more court documents seeking an injunction against the gang.
The documents contend Chiques members have threatened prosecutors, police officers and community members who support the crackdown.
"All the threats implied great bodily harm or death as a result of implementing this injunction," according to the new court documents, which also allege that Dist. Atty. Greg Totten has been targeted for a "hit."
Prosecutors have filed a civil lawsuit seeking a permanent injunction against the Chiques, which they describe as the county's largest and most violent gang. If granted, it would impose sweeping restrictions on the activity of hundreds of Chiques within a mapped "safety zone" covering more than half of the inhabited land in the city.
Ventura County Superior Court Judge Fred H. Bysshe will hear arguments Monday. Opponents said they had already set up a hotline for residents to lodge police complaints and were offering free transportation for others wishing to join in protest at the 2 p.m. hearing.
Bysshe this week issued his first ruling in the case when he denied a request from Ventura County Public Defender Kenneth Clayman to argue on behalf of the Chiques that the proposed ban on public assembly was overly broad and illegal. Clayman said Wednesday he planned to make another plea this week.
In documents filed by prosecutors Wednesday, Deputy Dist. Atty. Karen Wold and Oxnard Police Det. Neail Holland argued that approval of the injunction was even more critical because of information detectives had received that gang members were plotting to harm officers, possibly kill one, and damage the city's police station in retaliation for filing the lawsuit.
Wold wrote that since authorities announced on March 24 that they were pursuing the injunction, overall crime has decreased 32% within the proposed safety zone and there have been no gang killings in the city.
She said gang members had circulated a flier among themselves that said, "Please be careful. The cops are on us more than ever."
Granting the injunction would ensure that gang crimes remained in check and better safeguard the community, Wold wrote.
"Residents are afraid to walk their dogs, wash their cars, or let their children play outside. They are virtual prisoners in their own homes. These residents need and deserve immediate relief," Wold wrote in a response to written arguments by the gang's attorneys.
At Wednesday's news conference, Chris Espinosa, a director for the League of United Latin American Citizens, which organized the coalition, said law enforcement officials should focus on prevention programs for troubled youth, rather than "rushing" toward a plan to jail them.
"The Oxnard Police Department is attempting to establish dangerous precedent in our community by proposing a 'carte blanche' enforcement tool," Espinosa said.
The lawsuit names 36 Chiques gang members and includes 500 more unnamed defendants.
Violators of the injunction would face misdemeanor charges for flashing gang signs, wearing Dallas Cowboys' attire, staying out past 10 p.m. and socializing with one another in public places.
Representatives from various civil rights groups, including John Hatcher III, president of the Ventura County chapter of the NAACP, and Francisco Romero of the Committee on Raza Rights, said gang crime was a serious problem but denounced the injunction because they believed it would result in harassment of innocent Latinos.
Oxnard, the largest city in the county with 180,000 residents, is 61% Latino.
"The proposed injunction is supposedly aimed against gang members; these are individuals who we know have the greatest need for intervention, intensive outreach and adequate treatment," Luis Garcia, local chairman of the Latino Task Force, said in a written statement. "As usual, our ... lawmakers have opted to blame the victims and their families."
But authorities said the proposed safety zone covered a large cross-section of the city, including St. John's Regional Medical Center as well as some affluent neighborhoods where gang crime has occurred.
Authorities said that for a police officer to make an arrest under terms of the injunction, a gang member must first be identified and served a copy of the court order, and that any violations must occur in public places within the designated safety zone.
David M. Rodriguez, a vice president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said he had sent a request to the U.S. Department of Justice asking it to intervene and "establish a formal process so that the substantive issues" between the community and police could be discussed.
Rodriguez and others denounced Police Chief Art Lopez for failing to meet with community leaders about the gang problem.
Lopez said Wednesday he had requested a meeting with league officials this week but said they had declined. League officials would not say whether they had been asked to meet with Lopez before contacting federal officials.
"I asked to meet with their board, and they didn't give me the opportunity," Lopez said. "I said, 'You're making a decision based on misinformation.' But it was like they'd made their decision and were not going to back down."
Lopez also said the coalition's announcement surprised him because Rodriguez had expressed support to the chief for the injunction at a community meeting in March and to Dist. Atty. Totten on another occasion.
Lopez also said the activist groups should not claim to be speaking for a majority of the city's Latinos because "a high percentage of the people getting victimized by the Colonia Chiques are of Latino descent."
Prosecutors have said that 37 of the 39 gang-related homicide victims over the last decade were Latino.