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Talks on Gang Order Possible

Judge says mediation may ease apparent distrust of police in targeted Oxnard areas.

August 11, 2004|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Seeking to calm community tensions, a Superior Court judge indicated Tuesday that he may order mediation between law enforcement officials and residents affected by a gang injunction imposed in Oxnard two months ago.

Judge Frederick H. Bysshe said he was giving mediation serious consideration after sifting through hundreds of affidavits filed by community members relating fears of police harassment and being falsely targeted as gang members.

Although he believes Oxnard Police Chief Art Lopez is carrying out the June 1 injunction in a "sensitive" manner, Bysshe said it was apparent that distrust of law enforcement had intensified in the La Colonia and south Oxnard neighborhoods targeted by the court order.

"There certainly has to be consideration for the community as well as prohibitions on gang activities," Bysshe said.

The judge's comments came during a daylong hearing to assess the effectiveness of Bysshe's temporary order restricting the activities of Colonia Chiques gang members within a six-square-mile boundary. Oxnard police and the Ventura County district attorney's office sought the order, calling the Chiques the county's most violent street gang.

Under the injunction, identified gang members who have been served papers cannot congregate, stay out after 10 p.m. or wear Dallas Cowboys attire.

Prosecutors want to expand by one square mile the area the injunction covers and make it permanent, while attorneys representing those served with the court order asked to have it thrown out or at least made less restrictive.

Bysshe took the matter under submission and set Sept. 13 for a briefing. The judge is expected to render a decision after considering all of the arguments.

During Tuesday's hearing, Deputy Dist. Atty. Karen Wold told Bysshe that crime had gone down significantly within the "safety zone" since law enforcement officials announced in March they were seeking an injunction.

Wold produced a chart that showed an 80% reduction in assaults over the past four years. But other statistics provided by the district attorney's office seemed to contradict claims of declining crime by showing no significant difference in homicides or suggesting that assaults had even increased, a point seized upon by defense attorney John Hachmeister.

"The injunction simply is not working -- or not as well as is being trumpeted by the plaintiff," Hachmeister said.

Wold's elaborately produced PowerPoint presentation offered the picture of a violent street gang that has terrorized and marred central Oxnard for decades with killings, robberies, assaults and graffiti. She played a profanity-filled rap video called "Gangsta Games," produced five years ago by one of the Chiques, that depicted young men with shaved heads drinking beer, showing off stylish cars and talking about crimes.

Wold told Bysshe that police and D.A. officials have been meticulous in making sure they serve papers only to active members of the gang, about 44 so far.

When defense attorneys sought to suggest that some of those served had been unfairly called gang members, Wold responded with rap sheets, police affidavits and in one instance a video clip from conservative pundit Bill O'Reilly's talk show to apparently show otherwise.

Oxnard police have attempted for years to put a lid on the gang's activities, but have met with a wall of resistance, Wold said. "Traditional law enforcement methods do not work with this gang and that's why this injunction is needed," the prosecutor said.

Attorneys for several residents who have been served told Bysshe that the injunction was overly broad and punitive. Unlike civil gang injunctions in other areas, the Oxnard order targets the entire Colonia Chiques gang as an "unincorporated association" rather than individual members, defense attorneys said.

That means residents who may have left the gang years ago, or those who are only peripherally associated with it, may be served with papers at the whim of Oxnard police, Hachmeister said.

"It's going to end up changing the standard greeting in La Colonia from 'Wassup?' to 'Have you been served?' " he said.

Deputy Public Defender Jay Leiderman urged Bysshe to at least consider shrinking the enforcement area. Referring to a "dot map" showing where crimes are concentrated, Leiderman suggested the boundaries could shrink to one square mile in the heart of La Colonia and still encompass 75% of the street violations attributed to the Chiques.

"When restricting constitutional freedoms, boundaries must be crafted as tightly as possible," Leiderman said.

More than 200 affected residents and activists filed declarations telling of fears that police would become overzealous. While most cited vague concerns about harm to their community, a few gave details on what they considered over-the-top enforcement of the court order.

They included Armando Vazquez, who owns Cafe A in the affected zone. Vazquez said he teaches a leadership class for struggling students and that several of them have been stopped and questioned repeatedly by police.

The youths are not named in the injunction and have never been served papers, Vazquez wrote, but are "nonetheless being watched, videotaped, stopped, questioned, having police cars parked outside of their homes, having their photos taken after police knock on their doors, and have been detained for such offenses as flicking ashes from a cigarette while driving."

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