Judge Favors Permanent Gang Ban
Prosecutors and police Monday lauded a Superior Court judge’s ruling that temporary restrictions on gang members within a 6.6-square-mile zone in Oxnard should be made permanent, saying the order would neutralize Ventura County’s largest and most violent street gang.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Karen Wold said the ruling by Judge Frederick H. Bysshe, released late Friday, puts gang members on notice that law enforcement officials are serious about curbing unlawful activity in the La Colonia neighborhood.
“We are pleased that the judge has provided this protection to Oxnard,” Wold said. “It gives police another tool in trying to suppress gang activity.”
Prosecutors and opponents have 10 days to comment on Bysshe’s decision before it becomes final.
The ruling gives legal approval to a June 1 temporary order that curtails rights for known criminal members of the Colonia Chiques gang. They are prohibited from assembling in public, staying out after 10 p.m. and wearing gang colors.
Though opponents had asked the judge to throw out the temporary order, or reduce the size of the restricted zone, Bysshe’s ruling upholds much of the earlier order. Attorneys representing those served with injunction papers said they are still studying the decision, but did not rule out the possibility that they will appeal.
“We feel that some of the terms go too far to address problems” in the community, said Neil Quinn, chief deputy public defender, who argued against a permanent injunction. “The curfew and association bans are the two that we have our strongest eyes on for appeal.”
The temporary order came at the urging of law enforcement officials who accused the Oxnard street gang of terrorizing the beachside community for more than three decades.
Wold squared off last month against defense attorneys in a three-week trial to determine the validity and scope of the injunction, the first issued in a county known as one of the safest in the United States.
Attorneys for alleged gang members and others caught up in the court-ordered crackdown argued that the injunction was overly broad and unfairly targeted a large group for the violent actions of a few.
They also said police and prosecutors had exaggerated problems in the community to bolster efforts to secure a permanent injunction against the gang.
But Oxnard police and the county district attorney’s office said a permanent injunction was necessary to keep a lid on the gang, which has an estimated 1,000 members.
Authorities said Colonia Chiques gang members had been involved as suspects or victims in 40 homicides since 1992. They also are connected to 116 incidents of drug activity for the years 2003-2004, and 122 robberies and at least 147 assaults since 2000.
Police have served 81 gang members with papers notifying them of the injunction, and only those people are subject to the court order. Wold said she expected that number to rise in coming months as more suspected gang members are served with papers.
Bysshe’s ruling added provisions that would allow gang members to “opt out” of the terms of the injunction if they can demonstrate a sustained period with no illegal activity.
Bysshe set that period at five years, but indicated he is willing to shorten it if a gang member successfully completes an intensive gang recovery program. Community members, working with police and prosecutors, can present their proposals for such a program at a hearing in six months, the judge said.
Such programs must require that a gang member renounce his earlier life, stop associating with gang members and remain free of gang-related arrests for a period of at least two years, the judge said.
They would also have to have all gang tattoos removed and make progress toward educational and career goals, the judge said.
Bysshe suggested that former gang members be asked for ideas on how to craft an effective recovery program.
“It is the court’s opinion that the ultimate solutions to the problems caused by gangs must be found and then administered by the community,” Bysshe wrote. “The police and courts can only prune the tangled branches of gang activity.”
Opponents have criticized the injunction as too restrictive and have urged authorities to scrap the crackdown in favor of broader, more effective solutions to youth violence.
On Monday, many seemed resigned that the injunction would be made permanent.
“We would of course have liked the judge to strike it down as unconstitutional,” said Armando Vasquez, a community activist and critic of the temporary order. “That was our dream, but we don’t live in a dream state.”
Though disappointed, Vasquez called the ruling fair, particularly the provisions calling for targeted gang members to be relieved of the injunction’s terms. He and other community members have already started a 10-week rehabilitation program for gang members and will now seek to broaden it, Vasquez said.
The program requires participants to enroll in college, work at Vasquez’s cafe business, use the Internet to find jobs and attend mentoring workshops, he said. Nearly 40 youths and young adults are enrolled, including seven who have been served with injunction papers, he said.
“It takes unconditional acceptance to turn that kid around,” he said. “Hopefully, it will be accepted as the model.”
Oxnard Police Chief John Crombach said his department stands ready to help formulate a workable opt-out program. Though it takes five years to get off the state’s database of gang members, Ventura County can find a different path, Crombach said.
“If there is a way we can help, we are going to do whatever we can,” he said.
“If we can get one person to change his life, that will mean 10 to 15 fewer felonies in the city of Oxnard.”
Crombach said he had been gratified to find a high level of citizen support for the gang injunction when he attends meetings across the blue-collar city of 186,000.
“While people have reservations about the government intruding into civil rights, the biggest concern was that we were going to cast too wide a net,” he said. “And that’s just not happening, nor is it going to happen.”