(OC Weekly columnist Gustavo Arellano standing in front of mural by artist Emigdio Vasquez, which was weirdly deemed forbidden territory to anyone named in the OVC gang injunction.)
When we left off earlier this week, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas designated 115 people in his proposed gang injunction as among the “most active participants in” the Orange Varrio Cypress gang.
Rackauckas said that the injunction was necessary because the gang— of which these 115 were purportedly hard core members—was guilty of all manner of heinous crimes.
(Nevermind that community members continued to protest that the Chapman College students who came over drunk from nearby Fullerton, were causing them way more regular trouble that the OVC homeboys.)
Usually when a DA—either in LA or in Orange County-–names people to a gang injunction , that’s the end of it.
This time, however, the ACLU got into the mix and agreed to represent five of the 62 people attempting to contest their inclusion.
The idea, the ACLU attorneys hoped, was to use the five to suggest to the presiding Superior Court judge that maybe he ought to take a look at the rest to see if they were really the dangerous gangsters the DA advertised them to be. The ACLU limited themselves to five because representation is time consuming and expensive,and the staff attorneys figured five was better than none.
The case marks one of the few times that individuals named in a gang injunction have been able to obtain legal representation and defend themselves against the charge they are gang members and should have their activities severely restricted, said the ACLU’s LA Staff Attorney Peter Bibring.
The five that the ACLU chose to represent were single mother, Erika Aranda, (see Tuesday’s post for Aranda’s story), an unnamed 16-year-old boy, and three middle-aged brothers: Patrick DeHerrera, 43, Roy DeHerrera, 46, and Louis DeHerrera, 32.
Patrick, the 43-year-old, admits he was once was an OVC gang member, “when I was young.” Patrick has also done time—but says he long ago left the gang behind and had worked for years as a carpenter until the pinched nerve in his back put him on permanent disability. Now Patrick lives inside the DA’s designated Safety Zone with his two aging parents—a father who is blind, and a diabetic mother who has recently had a debilitating stroke.
“Because I live and shop in the Safety Zone,” said Patrick, “I will become a prisoner in my own home even though I am not on parole or probation. 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 day-to-day activities. There are many restaurants, stores, and gas stations, for instance, in the Safety Zone where I could run into someone named in the injunction and then be arrested for associating with ‘gang members.’ I also take my kids to the street fair at the Orange Plaza and the carnival at Holy Family Catholic Church, both of which are located in the Safety Zone. I would be afraid of going those places and running into people named in the injunction.”
Roy the oldest of the three is a fork lift operator who lives with his wife and his kids just outside the Safety Zone, but frequently goes in to see his brothers and his parents, and to take his kids to and from the library and to see their grandparents. Roy also goes to church with his mother, tries to help kids in the area by teaching them boxing and felt similarly worried.
Ditto for Louis, the 32-year-old, who is studying to be an X-Ray Technician/Medical Assistant and is currently completing his clinical internship at Golden West Medical Clinic in Anaheim. After his graduation in August, Louis says he wants to attend Kaplan University, in North Hollywood, to become a Certified Radiologist Technician, and then, if he can afford it, continue his education further after that, doing the radiology work while he studies.
Louis has letters from his teachers to back up his claims.
Despite Patrick’s youthful gang membership, all three brothers say they are not gang members now, not in any way, shape or form.
On Thursday, the judge agreed and refused to include the ACLU’s five clients in the preliminary injunction. Then, while he was at it, the judge decided to exclude the other 57 who contested their status.
And what did the DA do when these dangerous people were struck from the injunction? Speak passionately about the clear and present danger they presented to the community?
Nope. He dismissed all 62 from his own list
Which makes his original accusations against them look a teensy-weeny bit suspect.
“The district attorney would not have dismissed our clients — and so many others – if there was any evidence that they were dangerous,” said Belinda Escobosa Helzer, a staff attorney for the ACLU’s Orange County Office. “Their dismissal undermines his earlier claims that the people named in the injunction were all active and dangerous members of a gang.”
LA’s Peter Bibring agreed. “This decision shows that the district attorney’s guilt-by-association strategy won?t stand up in court. By dropping the case against anyone who offered a defense, the district attorney has conceded the weakness of his case and that he cast too wide a net.”
Yep. That would be my read.
As commenter Linda said on the earlier thread when she heard the news, Thursday is a “good day for the Constitution.”