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Critics Assail Gang Order

Foes of an injunction against Colonia Chiques in Oxnard say it is being used to harass innocent people. Prosecutors say crime is down.

August 10, 2004|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

More than 200 opponents of Oxnard's 2-month-old gang injunction have filed court papers alleging it is being used to harass innocent people and trample civil liberties, while stigmatizing dozens of youths as "urban terrorists."

Attorneys for the Colonia Chiques, the gang targeted in the June 1 injunction, will use the declarations filed by community members to make the case that the court-ordered crackdown is too punitive and should be thrown out.

The injunction prohibits gang members from being on the street after 10 p.m., congregating and wearing Dallas Cowboy attire within a neighborhood of more than six square miles known as La Colonia.

Ventura County Superior Court Judge Frederick H. Bysshe, who granted the temporary order, is scheduled to conduct a court hearing today that could determine whether the injunction is made permanent, altered or scrapped.

The Chiques were singled out by authorities as the county's largest and most violent street gang. In papers filed last week, 220 civil rights activists, community members and residents who say they have faced harassment urged the judge to do away with the order.

Using nearly identical language, they testified that La Colonia is not a community gripped by fear of gang crime. Their biggest fear is that the injunction will be used by the Oxnard Police Department to abuse the rights of individuals "they choose to target as gang members."

"I do not fear living or working in this community and I do not fear traveling into La Colonia neighborhood," wrote Denise Gutierrez, a 20-year resident and drug counselor. "As a Latino, living and working within the alleged 'safety zone,' I am afraid that if this injunction is granted, the police will target me as a ... defendant."

Other residents alleged police harassment, describing Oxnard patrol cars repeatedly driving past their homes, stopping motorists for unwarranted traffic violations or being overly aggressive in handing out court orders. Gang members must be served with a copy of the injunction before they can be arrested for violating its terms.

"On at least ten occasions within the first two weeks of June, the police came to my home looking for my son, Jeova Ramirez, to 'give him papers,' " Maria Ramirez said in one declaration filed with the court. "On June 25 ... police kicked down my fence to enter my yard and questioned everyone in the home as to Jeova's whereabouts."

"My grandchildren now have a genuine fear of the police, because of the daily harassment and police presence near or around my home," Ramirez said in her declaration.

But prosecutor Karen Wold said none of the allegations bear weight. Opponents are attempting to attribute every contact with the police to the injunction, a ludicrous claim, Wold said.

"For example, if they are pulled over for a traffic stop, they blame the injunction," she said. "Well, the [motor] vehicle code applied before the injunction and it applies now. It is applied whenever there is a violation, regardless of the injunction."

As for the police surveillance of certain homes, Wold said officers were looking for suspected gang members to serve them with injunction papers. So far, 44 residents identified as gang members have been served, out of a city population of nearly 200,000, the prosecutor said.

"We are looking for the gang members," she said. "They are just not that easy to find."

Wold predicted that the declarations would have little effect on the judge because they present no evidence of harassment. Several were filed by out-of-town liberal activists who have taken up the injunction as a cause celebre, she said.

"This is not for everyone in the world to weigh in on how they feel about gang injunctions," she said.

Wold said she will present statistics showing that crime in La Colonia has gone down significantly since the preliminary injunction was granted. She also plans to ask the judge to expand the injunction's boundaries slightly, taking in another square mile south of La Colonia that was hit by four gang-related homicides in two years.

Gabriella Navarro-Busch, an attorney for the defendants, disputed Wold's claim of success. She will argue that the crime-fighting tool has done more harm than good.

"The stats are somewhat flawed, and we will raise those points [today]," she said. "It's working in targeting some innocent people, but I don't know if it's working otherwise."

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