Putting Oxnard's newly imposed gang injunction to a crucial test, a college student testified Tuesday that he has been wrongly accused of gang membership and asked a judge to exempt him from the court order.
Miguel Guillen, 21, is accused of belonging to the Colonia Chiques street gang, whose members have become the target of an aggressive law enforcement crackdown. Under a June 1 court order, members of the gang face arrest if they assemble in public, wear gang clothing or stay out after 10 p.m. within a 6.6-square-mile enforcement zone.
But Guillen on Tuesday told Superior Court Judge Frederick H. Bysshe he has never been a gang member, recounting a long history of employment, college attendance and volunteer work at a Ventura hospital.
The matter is more than an academic question of civil liberties for Guillen, a full-time Oxnard College student. He lives within the enforcement zone and said he wants to finish college and begin a career in radiology in his hometown. He even worries, he said, about what the court order might mean to his relationship with longtime friends.
"As long as I choose to live in Oxnard, this will follow me," Guillen said after the proceeding. "I want this to be off my back. I don't need this; it shouldn't apply to me."
Deputy Dist. Atty. Karen Wold painted a different picture, citing Guillen's gun-possession conviction last year and saying he has been documented by police many times associating with gang members. Wold said Guillen also has admitted to officers his membership in the gang -- an assertion Guillen disputes.
Wold said a search at Guillen's Oxnard home in June turned up a handgun, personal items marked with gang graffiti and Dallas Cowboys attire, apparel adopted decades ago by the Chiques gang.
"We've met the criteria that the court required be established," Wold told Bysshe, urging the judge to deny Guillen's request. After five hours of testimony, Bysshe said he would issue a written ruling later.
The issue strikes at the heart of concerns raised by some community members since the injunction was imposed. Although law enforcement officials have called the injunction a necessary step to combat what they call Ventura County's most violent street gang, activists have urged city leaders to scrap the court-ordered crackdown in favor of broader, more effective solutions to youth violence. Some have worried the court order will allow police to cast too wide a net, ensnaring innocent residents.
"What we have here today is an example of the repercussions of this action," said Oxnard community activist Francisco Romero, who attended the hearing. "People are being found guilty without due process and then finding themselves bound by the terms of the injunction without ever having had the opportunity to defend themselves."
Meanwhile, Oxnard resident Javier Ambriz, 23, who had also claimed in court papers that he is not a gang member and therefore should not be bound by terms of the injunction, withdrew his request to be exempted from the court order. Ambriz was arrested last month after police searched his home and confiscated evidence they said linked him to the Colonia Chiques.
Police said they obtained a search warrant in response to Ambriz's July 19 court declaration that he was not a gang member. One of his attorneys, John H. Hachmeister, told the court that Ambriz withdrew his request to avoid the possibility of incriminating himself.