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Permanent Gang Order Is Urged

Prosecutor argues at hearing that injunction against Oxnard's Colonia Chiques has cut crime. But others assail the crackdown.

March 03, 2005|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

A landmark injunction against Oxnard's most violent street gang has cut crime in Ventura County's largest city and should be made permanent to safeguard the community, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

Launching a trial in Superior Court to determine whether a temporary injunction against the Colonia Chiques should be made permanent, Deputy Dist. Atty. Karen Wold provided a PowerPoint presentation chronicling killings, robberies and assaults that she said were committed by members of the Oxnard gang, which authorities say has terrorized the beachside city for more than three decades.

Wold produced evidence that she said showed gang-related crime has declined sharply since the injunction was announced in March 2004, an assertion disputed by defense attorneys. The injunction created a 6.6-square-mile safety zone in which members of the gang are banned from gathering in public, staying out after 10 p.m. and wearing gang colors, such as Dallas Cowboy attire.

Some photos used in the presentation showed bloodied gang members and their victims lying injured or dead in neighborhoods throughout Oxnard.

"This is what kids are growing up with," Wold told Judge Frederick H. Bysshe, who will decide whether the injunction will be made permanent, altered or scrapped.

"The size [of the safety zone] is based on the criminal nuisance activity of this gang. They are the ones who identified that area, not us," she added. "If anything, [the size] should be increased."

But attorneys for alleged gang members and others caught up in the court-ordered crackdown offered a different view, saying the injunction was overly broad and unfairly targeted a large group of people for the violent actions of a few.

While authorities contend the gang is an organized association with 1,000 members, Deputy Public Defender Neil Quinn maintained that it's really a loose affiliation of small groups, each acting independently. He said many of those considered gang members by police have no formal affiliation to the group.

Quinn argued that existing law enforcement strategies were adequate to deal with the relatively small number of people causing problems in the community and suggested that troubles in the largely Latino city have been overblown.

"We intend to convince this court that Oxnard is far from a war zone," Quinn told Bysshe. "It's a city that has got its problems, but it's far from the war zone [prosecutors] allege it is."

Declaring a crisis sparked by unprecedented gang violence, the Ventura County district attorney and Oxnard police announced last year that they would be seeking a permanent injunction. Authorities said Colonia gang members had been involved as suspects or victims in 39 homicides since 1992. They also are tied to 140 robberies and at least 145 assaults since 2000.

Police have served 71 Colonia Chiques members with papers notifying them of the injunction, and only those people are subject to the court order. The anti-gang injunction is the first ever issued in the county, known as one of the safest in the country.

But 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. Some community members and residents said they have faced harassment since the temporary order went into effect. Others worry that the injunction will allow police to cast too wide a net, ensnaring innocent residents.

Both views were represented in court Wednesday. Opponents wore T-shirts emblazoned with the five-pointed Dallas Cowboy star and the slogan "No Gang Injunction." Supporters held signs that said "Stop Domestic Terrorism" and "Support the Gang Injunction."

The hearing attracted newly appointed Oxnard Police Chief John Crombach, named by the City Council late Tuesday to head the department. Former Chief Art Lopez, who initially pursued the injunction, retired last month.

Oxnard crime analyst Karen Moore was Wold's first witness. She testified that gang-motivated assaults dropped 61% in the last four years, from 72 in 2001 to 28 last year. She also said that in the two months following the injunction announcement last March, no gang-related assaults were reported in the city.

"We have never had a three-month period in which two of those months had no gang assaults," Moore testified.

Quinn and defense attorney Gabriella Navarro-Busch said they intend to review statistics that show crime has increased since the injunction went into effect.

Testimony is set to resume today. The trial is expected to last two to three weeks.

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