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The OVC Gang Injunction: Using a Tool Badly – Part 2

May 15th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

(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.”

Posted in Civil Liberties, criminal justice, Gangs, Orange County | 7 Comments »

7 Responses

  1. Rob Thomas Says:

    Good, let the gansters bang. They’re all victim’s of society. It’s not their fault that they do what they do.

  2. don quixote Says:

    Tony Rackauckas no doubt has a desire for higher political office, nothing like a gang injunction publicity show to get some face time on TV, hell it might even go national.

    And who’s going to care about a bunch of poor Mexicans and Chicanos being targeted? Hell they don’t count, and the ACLU coming after Rackauckas gives him a great big boost as a victim of left wing pinkos in the eyes of the Orange County Republican voters.
    Keep the Mexicans in their Warsaw Ghetto and make political hay off of them, what a unique idea! Whats old is new again.
    Rackauckas for State Attorney General! Or dogcatcher depending on your point of view.

  3. Linda Says:

    It seems like some commenters don’t even read the articles they are commenting on. “Let the gangsters bang”???
    They aren’t gang members. They were mistakenly targeted as gang members. The District Attorney himself decided they aren’t gang members. The Judge decided they aren’t gang members. Do you really think the DA and the Judge are bleeding heart liberals? They’re tough. If they say they aren’t gang members, that’s a pretty convincing decision. The problem with this case is that DA initially confused “mexicans” with “gang members” and when the DA has made this mistake in the past, the injunctions were railroaded through and made permanent before anyone could mount a defense. This neighborhood reacted quickly enough to get help and defend themselves to where justice prevailed. Hopefully the next gang injunction will only name REAL gang members and leave mexicans alone who merely live in the neighborhood.

  4. Is the Carona machine now operating out of the D.A.’s office? Says:

    Are you kidding me? Does ANYONE remember Rackauckas EVER investigating Carona? He never did! He always covered up for Carona. Carona is gone but his machine is still alive.

  5. Gava Joe Says:

    I think probably Rob Thomas was “shooting from the hip” with his terse comment, Linda. He’s shown himself to have a fair and unbiased stance as regards gang politics. I’m quite sure when he has the time he’ll clarify. Good comment Quixote. AS you’re surely aware the injustices will eventually be rectified, it’s a shame it takes so damned long to happen.

  6. I want to be Tony's girl... Says:

    Tony Rackauckas was a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division from 1962–1964.

    Fighting soldiers from the sky
    Fearless men who jump and die
    Men who mean just what they say
    The brave men of the Green Beret

    Trained to live off nature’s land
    Trained in combat, hand-to-hand
    Men who fight by night and day
    Courage peak from the Green Berets

  7. Linda Says:

    Gava Joe, I appreciate the clarification. However, that’s a perfect example of the knee-jerk reaction by even sensible people when they hear the word “gang” – and the DA and police are taking full advantage of this. (That, and the fact that because the injunctions are civil and not criminal, the state is not required to provide an attorney for those that cannot afford one.) Hardly anyone will bother to investigate the facts once they’ve heard the word “gang.” That’s why injunctions can be put in place in a neighborhood in a matter of weeks and no one, not even Legal Aid or the Public Defenders’ office, will represent a “gang” because of the public perception.

    Bottom line: No attorney will help a falsely accused gang member — and these injunctions once in place are permanent. There are no provisions for their removal – ever. Even the ACLU — who represent many hated groups if there are principles at stake — waited until an injunction was literally taking place in their own city (Orange) to step in.

    Until we can get over the knee-jerk reaction to that word – falsely accused people will have no recourse to get out from under the injunctions.

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