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Ex-gang member taken off injunction

In a first for L.A., the city removes the unidentified person after he completes a new process.

October 10, 2008|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

For the first time ever, the Los Angeles city attorney's office has removed a former gang member from one of its numerous gang injunctions, which cover more than 11,000 people.

City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, accompanied by several council members, said Thursday that an ex-gang member had become the first to complete a new gang injunction removal petition process his office has set up. Authorities declined to identify the individual.

About 11,000 members and associates of 57 gangs are subject to court injunctions that bar them from activities as varied as gathering together to carrying something that could be consider a graffiti tool. More than a quarter of the city's gang members are named in various injunctions restraining their behavior.

A person can be subject to the injunction if he or she has admitted gang membership, has been identified by a reliable informant, displays gang tattoos or signs, or is associated or arrested with known gang members.

"The gang injunctions in Los Angeles have been a highly effective tool in bringing a level of safety to our communities," Delgadillo said.

But, he said, city leaders have come to realize in the last few years that the injunctions cannot be a one-way street, and those who reform need a second chance.

"We need an exit ramp for those who want to turn their lives around," he said. "If you're a member of a gang, you'll likely end up dead or in jail. We want you to leave the gang life behind. We can get you out from under injunction."

Civil rights and community activists, particularly in Watts, have long complained that those identified as gang members on the injunctions can never escape the label.

Peter Bibring, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said he was pleased the city had implemented such an appeals process but criticized officials for not acting sooner.

"It is shocking that the city of Los Angeles has been using gang injunctions for over 20 years with thousands of people served and they have only now finally removed someone from an injunction," he said. "Clearly, during those 20 years people have left the gang life behind or they were wrongly identified by police "

City officials said they also were happy that removals were finally occurring.

"For years there have been major concerns about possible violations of individuals' civil rights because no person has ever successfully been removed from a gang injunction," said Councilman Tony Cardenas, who for three years has worked with city prosecutors to craft a removal process. "It was like being part of the Mafia; you'd get in, but you couldn't get out."

Cardenas, who chairs the council Ad Hoc Committee on Gang Violence, said the new process shows the city is not just about enforcement but also gives onetime gang members a chance at life without the negative label. He said those renouncing the gang life won't be required to talk about the past to authorities just to show they are personally no longer involved in gang activity. "It in no way requires that someone be a snitch," Cardenas said.

"It is not only about crime suppression but individual constitutional rights," said Police Commission President Anthony Pacheco. "It is about humanity."

Still, city officials were concerned Thursday about the safety of the first person removed from an injunction and refused to provide his name, age or former gang affiliation. Because of the potential danger from active members of the gang, the city's elected prosecutor said the identities of all those who were removed from injunctions would be protected.

Delgadillo said the reformed gang member began the removal process May 22. The city attorney's office is reviewing 14 other applications from people seeking removal.

Until now the only way for a gang member to be removed was to challenge the injunction in court. City prosecutors said only twice had someone persuaded a judge not to enforce the injunction against him

The civil gang injunctions carry penalties of up to six months in jail for a contempt violation of the court order. First established in 1987, the L.A. injunctions have resulted in similar orders nationwide. Academics who have independently examined their effect have found they have at least resulted in a small reduction in gang crimes.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

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