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The OVC Gang Injunction: Using a Tool Badly – Part 1

May 12th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon



In late March of this year, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas filed an injunction
against a gang known as Orange Varrio Cypress, or OVC, a group that generally claims territory in the traditionally Mexican American area of the city Orange known as Barrio Cypress. It is the sixth such injunction filed in Orange County in the last 2 1/2 years.

Unlike some of my fellow liberal friends, I am not against gang injunctions per se. They are a tool, and at times a very useful tool in giving a community breathing room when gangs are running roughshod. But as with a hammer, whether the tool of gang injunctions is used for constructive purposes or as a clumsy bludgeon, depends on the skill with which it is wielded.

In the case of the OVC injunction it appears that the tool is being wielded discouragingly poorly.

Functionally, a gang injunction works like a restraining order.
But, instead of barring contact with an individual, it bans certain activities by purported members of a particular group named in the order.

The OVC injunction demarcates a 3.8-square-mile area the DA has designated as the Safety Zone. This section of Orange, which amounts to 16 percent of the city, is located mostly in Orange’s downtown sector, west of the 55 Freeway. In the Safety Zone, alleged gang members are not allowed to be in the presence of anyone else who is allegedly a gang member, or to drink alcohol, or to be nearby to anyone else who is drinking alcohol, or to wear “gang attire, ” which is a woozy term that means certain brands and certain colors. In addition, those named in the injunction must obey a 10 p.m. curfew.

And there are other prohibitions. Among the most bizarre is the rule that alleged OVC gang members named are forbidden to stand in front of a famous local mural painted by the highly respected artist Emigdio Vasquez. It seems that the police have deemed the mural as OVC’s gang “flag.”

If those named in the injunction violate any of these restrictions, they face six months in jail and a hefty fine.

With previous Orange County gang injunctions, there had sometimes been minor protests
, but they had come to nothing.

This time community members and activists seemed far more determined in their objections, saying that the police at the DA had cast an absurdly wide net that amounted to racial profiling. It was, they said, making the lives of the innocent people named to the list….. simply impossible.

Among the problems with poorly calibrated gang injunctions is the fact that, when mistakes are made, they are extremely difficult to rectify. If one is not a gang member, but is wrongly named in the injunction, there is no way off the list short of hiring a private attorney to contest one’s inclusion. And even if one can afford an attorney, there is no guarantee that contesting will work, as one is stuck with the task of having to prove a negative.

One of those named on the OVC list was Erika Aranda, a 21-year-old single mother who lives with her family and her young daughter in the so-called Safety Zone, but says she has never claimed gang membership, or participated in gang activity. She has never been convicted of a crime. She has, however, grown up around those who are admitted gang members and has sometimes, according to police, been seen talking on the street with these childhood friends who still live in the neighborhood. Plus her uncle—a drug addict— is a old time OVC gang member who lives with the family intermittently, “whenever he’s not locked up,” she says.

That was enough for the DA, who named Aranda as a gang participant, thus subject to all the restrictions. For instance, this meant that the young mother, who had recently been laid off from her job at the Dairy Queen, would be unable to continue with the job training classes she had been attending at the The Bridge, a non-profit also located in the Safety Zone. It seemed that, among its services, The Bridge counseled and provided classes to at-risk youth, some of whom were listed in the injunction. So just by being in the building, Aranda would be in violation of the order.

Nor could Aranda ask a neighborhood friend to drive her to a job interview (she doesn’t have a car), if that friend happened to be on the list or had a family member on the list.

And, if the police wanted to push things, it meant she could not use public transportation if someone on the injunction list was also taking the same bus.

“Because I live and shop in the Safety Zone, I will become a prisoner in my own home even though I am not on parole or probation,” Aranda wrote in a statement protesting her inclusion in the injunction. “I fear that I will be targeted by the police and will be accused of violating the terms of the preliminary injunction by engaging in routine, day-to-day activities.”

Given the flimsy “proof” of gang membership the DA had compiled to justify her listing and that of some of the others who claim they were named wrongly, Aranda’s fear doesn’t seem outlandish.

As if to validate her anxiety, on Easter Sunday, police arrested a teenager named in the injunction for nothing more than standing with a friend (not named in the injunction) outside the apartment building where he lived with his mother, which happened to be located right next to the forbidden Emigdio Vasquez mural.

At their wits end, the community group went to the ACLU,
which finally agreed to represent five of the people named in the injunction, Aranda among them.

“The ease with which the District Attorney’s Office embraced
this sweeping approach is troubling, and should make the public very nervous,” said Belinda Escobosa Helzer, one of the two ACLU staff attorneys who would be working the case. “This haphazard, catch-all approach to cracking down on gangs ensnares innocent victims and threatens to take away their most basic freedoms — associating with family and friends.”


Photo of Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas from the OC Weekly.

Posted in Gangs, Orange County | 21 Comments »

21 Responses

  1. Pokey Says:

    Just to be helpful and complete, below are the instructions for being removed from the list.

    My guess is that Erika Aranda’s boyfriend or x-boyfriend who fathered her child is a active gang member.

    I am not sure if this is the best way to deal with gangs but it is certainly better (for the gang members) than what is taking place in Central America where there is a bounty on the hide of any tattooed gang member (dead or alive), and they are often hunted down like wolves or coyotes.

    Any defendant who has been named in and served with this lawsuit
    which seeks an injunction or subject to an injunction resulting from this
    lawsuit who believes he or she was erroneously included in the lawsuit or
    injunction may petition the Orange County District Attorney’s Office for
    removal from the lawsuit or injunction. Upon notice from the defendant, the
    Orange County District Attorney’s office will hold a hearing to be presided
    over by a panel of two Senior Deputy District Attorneys not associated with
    the injunction action, and a representative from the Probation Department.
    At the hearing, the defendant may present evidence, if he or she chooses, to
    show that the defendant was never, or at present is not, an active participant
    in the named criminal street gang. The District Attorney’s Office may
    present evidence to the contrary if there is any. If the panel determines by a
    preponderance of the evidence that the defendant was never, or at present is
    not, an active participant in the named criminal street gang, the District
    Attorney’s Office will petition the assigned court to dismiss the defendant
    from the lawsuit or remove the defendant from the injunction. The findings
    of the hearing will be kept confidential. If a defendant is dismissed from the
    lawsuit or removed from the injunction pursuant to this provision and is
    subsequently found to be engaging in behavior indicative of active
    participation in a criminal street gang, then that defendant may be re-served
    with any injunction that results from this lawsuit and will be required to
    comply with all of its terms. This provision does not prevent the defendant
    from petitioning the assigned court, at any time, to be dismissed from the
    lawsuit or removed from any injunction obtained as a result of the lawsuit,
    or exercising any other legal or equitable rights or remedies.

  2. Linda Says:

    I would love to see the statistics on how many people have actually been removed using this procedure. To be helpful and complete, could the person who made the comment please provide those statistics?

  3. Celeste Fremon Says:

    In Los Angeles, last time I talked to the City Attorney’s office (about 2 months ago), exactly one person had successfully removed himself from the list—ever. And that one person got off only after years of very vocal pushing for an off-ramp on the part of advocates and press, including this blog.

    In Orange County, where the resources to fight this sort of thing are fewer and less developed, what would your guess be?

    Pokey, there is nothing in the legal paperwork on Aranda—which I have in my possession— that suggests a gangmember boyfriend was the issue. It is as I stated, the uncle and the fact that she occasionally has been seen chatting with childhood friends who live near to her or, in one case, that she ran into at a street fair, who happen to be alleged gang members.

    However, about the underlying principle, if she did have a gang member boyfriend, if she herself is not involved that is no reason to encroach on her civil liberties.

  4. don cheto Says:

    My friends are all gang members, and I only ride along for fun during their drive-by’s.

    And I only watch for cops during their drug sales, I never collect the money or sales tax from street dealers. I am NOT a gang member, they are just my friends !!!

    Celest thanks for understanding.

  5. Mavis Beacon Says:

    Isn’t that the problem with gang injuctions? There is no real standard of proof needed to subject individuals to an alternate set of laws. Once you’ve been designated a gang member, and the evidence required is minimal, otherwise legal behavior is now criminal. There’s no due process.

    You’d think this is the kind of thing people who just a few weeks ago were unendingly worried about the civil liberties of right wing extremists (a group that has faced no unjust arrests let alone prosecutions) would oppose.

  6. Pokey Says:

    The first amendment clearly defines the right of people to peaceable assemble.

    The anti-gang injunctions are unconstitutional, and that enforcing them through criminal penalties equates to guilt by association and guilt without trial.

    The case in which the California Supreme Court upheld a gang injunction is Gallo v. Acuña. It was decided by 4 votes in favor and 3 dissents in 1997.

  7. Lorna from Reseda Says:

    He has that grey thing going on at the temples, with a little red at the top too. This guy is going places!

  8. Mavis Beacon Says:

    Alright, Pokey! Principle strikes. Nice.

    Let me add that while there may be some merit to gang injunctions, I’m with Pokey in believing they’re unconstitutional.

  9. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Good research, Pokey. You both have a point. I haven’t read the California Supreme’s decision in quite some years. I’ve forgotten what their rational was.

    I think the gang databases are Constitutional challenges waiting to happen, and I too think the injunctions are lacking in anything that is truly due process. To get the injunction the DA has to go before a judge, but they are mostly rubber stamped, and there is no real “process.”

    Plus, unlike criminal accusations, if you’re found to be in violation of the things, you have no right to an attorney, because these are civil cases. You hire one yourself, or you don’t have one. Most people just don’t have the money.

  10. Pokey Says:

    With Ms. Napolitano (the head of DHS) issuing warnings to ALL law enforcement organizations across the county to WATCH the rightwing groups who watch FOX News, many of us (who have TV’s) should be concerned. Will we be next to have the government restraining our movement?

    Right-wingers are opposed to (NEW) gun control efforts, are critical of free trade agreements, and government infringements on civil liberties.

    Right-wingers are concerned that illegal immigrants are taking away American jobs.

    Right-wingers suspect we want to suspend of the U.S. Constitution, and we are creating citizen detention camps so they are stockpiling guns and ammunition.

    Some of the above has been paraphrased to make my point.

  11. roy Says:

    I find it a bit strange that a gang in orange would need a injunction, is it really that bad there?I am for them in worst case senerios where the gang has total control of the neighborhood and some innocent peoples rights will suffer but innocent people go to jail everyday should we get rid of jail too?For the girl that got out on the list for this injunction its sad but also maybe you should not hang out with gangmembers wether there your family or not sometimes we all have to make sacrafices in life that are not fair giving up old friends that are gangmembers does not seem to much to ask to keep clear of trouble.

  12. El Cid Says:

    What’s with all of these gang injunctions in these good areas? I stayed at a hotel in Orange one night. Just typical yuppie OC. Nothing but bars and restaurants with people in suits and ties. If there’s a gang there, they have to be living in the cracks. This is ridiculous. There must be some part of Orange where Latinos live and the city is just using their existence to get the police department more money and resources. Also, I’ve read a study demonstrating that gang injunctions only scatter gangs to other areas. Gang injunctions are political b.s. Jesus Christ. Give the constitution a chance. If someone breaks a law, arrest them. It’s simple. What is it coming to?

  13. El Cid Says:

    Take the Primera Flats gang, for instance. When their home turf, the Aliso Village projects, was torn down in 2000, people thought the gang was finished. They’re now scattered all over East LA and other parts of LA, and have become twice as powerful because so. Their tags are all over the place and they’re slowly becoming the next 18th street. That’s what gang injunctions do, too. The hard core members are not going to quit banging because some cop gave them some stupid piece of paper. They’re just going to high tail it to Palmdale, and start up a click there. The real victims of gang injunctions are not the subjects of the injunction, but rather the citizens of areas that the gang members move to. It’s about the same as a neighbor blowing their leaves onto your lawn. It’s a stupid, temporary solution to make one particular area look cleaner. People who push for injunctions either don’t know what they’re talking about, or are full of shit and have an agenda. Take that to the bank.

  14. Celeste Fremon Says:

    El Cid, Primera is indeed an interesting example of the problem you point out about dispersal. They are much, much stronger now than before Aliso was torn down, which is due to a multiplicity of reasons, but it still makes your point. Thanks for bring up that angle.

  15. roy Says:

  16. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Roy, love the photos! (And the whole post.) The first photo, the black and white, is particularly good. But I enjoyed them all. Great stuff, and lovely narrative to go along with. Thanks for the link!

    (And, hey, if anybody decides to pull out those childhood pics mentioned in the post, let me know.)

    PS: I just noticed that I hadn’t linked to LA Eastside. That grievous oversight is now corrected.

  17. Linda Says:

    Its a good day for the Constitution. The DA dismissed 62 people off the Orange gang injunction today, not only those defendants represented by the ACLU but also the people that had been fighting without attorneys trying to get justice for themselves. The only people that remain on the injunction are the 44 people who did not contest the injunction. The neighborhood organized and fought and now there is a model for other communities to follow.

  18. Rob Thomas Says:

    I love gangs !

  19. roy Says:

    yes i enjoyed that post as well and it tied in with what el cid was saying

  20. P1RATE Says:

    In all honesty gang injunctions dont work. They just make the problems worse for everybody in the long run.

  21. irma Says:

    i think that the Orange Police just want any reason to arrest these kids. HELLO GO ARREST PEOPLE WHO ARE REALLY COMMITING A CRIME OR BREAKING THE LAW, just saying..

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