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Judge Signs Gang Injunction

The move allows Oxnard police to control Chiques members' behavior within a large 'safety zone.' Opponents vow to carry on their fight.

June 02, 2004|Holly J. Wolcott | Times Staff Writer

In an unprecedented move for Ventura County, a Superior Court judge Tuesday issued a preliminary injunction that bars Oxnard's Colonia Chiques street gang from congregating in public and gives police new powers to curb the activities of the county's largest and most violent gang.

Although acknowledging concerns about constitutional rights, Judge Fred H. Bysshe signed the injunction that establishes a massive "safety zone" in the city, within which members of the Chiques are banned from assembling, flashing gang signs, wearing Dallas Cowboys attire and staying out past 10 p.m. Violators will be subject to arrest and face misdemeanor charges, which could bring a $1,000 fine or up to six months in jail.

"The Court recognizes that this injunction will not solve the gang problems in Oxnard," Bysshe wrote in his seven-page ruling. "It is, in effect, only a pressure bandage to attempt to significantly reduce the bleeding so that concerned members of the community ... will be able to examine and address the causes of why there are approximately 1,000 individuals in the city who act in so many harmful ways."

Torrance attorney John H. Hachmeister, who represents the gang, said he would consider filing a motion for an immediate stay and also planned to appeal the judge's decision.

"This pretty much turns the jurisprudence process on its head," Hachmeister said. "To take away constitutional rights and then talk later about whether it worked is wrong."

In his ruling, Bysshe was careful to recognize the concerns of opponents who fear, like Hachmeister, that it would infringe upon the rights of law-abiding residents and that police would use it to harass innocent Latinos, who make up more than 60% of the city's 186,000 residents.

Bysshe stated that police officers would be required to follow detailed criteria to establish the identities of Chiques members before acting against any individual. He also pointed out that police would have to serve notice of the injunction -- in Spanish if necessary -- to those gang members before they could be arrested for violating the terms of the order.

Citing concerns for the residents who live within the safety zone, which covers roughly half the city's populated area, Bysshe set an Aug. 9 hearing date for a status conference on the effects of enforcement of the injunction so that its provisions and the size of the safety zone could be adjusted if necessary. He said he would welcome input from all members of the community.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Karen Wold, who drafted the injunction and argued the case in court last week, said she was pleased with the judge's ruling.

"Clearly the court took the time to think about the right thing to do," she said. "The people of Oxnard will now live in a safer community, and they no longer need to be afraid to walk down the street."

Oxnard Assistant Police Chief Chuck Hookstra said gang crime had already begun to drop significantly since the pursuit of the injunction was announced in late March by Police Chief Art Lopez and Dist. Atty. Greg Totten.

But opponents said they were undeterred and would keep pressing their case. Hachmeister chastised Bysshe for failing to delay his ruling to give defense attorneys more time to prepare. Prosecutors spent about six months drafting more than 1,000 pages of pleadings and declarations.

"I would think the judge would exercise more caution when taking away the rights of citizens," Hachmeister said. "All he was presented was one side, and that's not the way the system normally works."

Ramona Ripston, executive director for the Southern California American Civil Liberties Union, also decried the ruling as a violation of due process. She also said a recent police study done in Los Angeles found that such injunctions only deter gang crime temporarily.

"We think there are programs that cities and counties ought to adopt to give young people things to do," Ripston said. "This is not the best way to stop" gang crime.

Bysshe's order takes effect immediately, and Oxnard law enforcement officials said patrol officers would begin serving copies to Chiques members as early as next week. Prosecutors plan to seek a permanent injunction at a hearing not yet scheduled.

Invoking a strategy common in Los Angeles, the injunction bars 1,000 Colonia Chiques gang members from publicly hanging out together within the 6.6-square-mile safety zone, which stretches roughly from the Ventura Freeway almost to the Pacific Ocean.

Authorities have said repeatedly that a spike in gang violence over the last year and a half -- with 14 homicides attributed to the Chiques -- prompted the injunction and the need for a crackdown. In addition to dozens of homicides over the years, authorities said the decades-old gang was responsible for drug dealing, harassment and intimidation of Oxnard residents and for hundreds of robberies, burglaries and assaults.

Often, authorities said, the victims were farmworkers, street vendors, schoolchildren, hospital employees and even church members who go door to door to deliver Scripture.

Similar injunctions have been used in Los Angeles and other urban areas, authorities said, but the Oxnard case was especially noteworthy because the injunction established such a large safety zone.

In his ruling, Bysshe ordered that a person must meet two or more of the following criteria to be identified as a gang member:

* Admits or has previously admitted being a member of the Chiques;

* Has clothing, etc., associated only with the Chiques;

* Has been previously arrested while participating with the Chiques gang;

* Information that places the subject with the Chiques gang has been obtained from a reliable informant;

* Close association with the gang has been confirmed.

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