City Attorney Injunctions Law Enforcement

Trutanich, Taggers & the Madness of Bad Injunctions


Monday, the LA Times’ Scott Gold reported that,
in an interview with new LA City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, Trutanich said that, through the use of a civil injunction similar to a gang injunction, he planned to give police the power to arrest and jail taggers just for hanging out together. Not for tagging. Or for planning to tag. But just for talking to each other. About whatever. School. The Dodgers. The merits of this spray paint over that one.

Now, just to be clear, with this new notion, Trutanich is not talking about gang members who tag, which is a whole different deal, and a provocative and dangerous business. The city attorney says he intends to aim his legal guns at graffiti crews: Guys (or young women) who spray paint their nicknames on walls, light posts, and freeway overpasses as a form of risk-courting, illegal sport.

He wants to slap those kids and young adults with the equivalent of a gang injunction, which means they can be arrested, in essence, just for being a tagger. Or, more specifically, for being a tagger who is standing with someone else who has been labeled a tagger, whether he or she is—in fact— a tagger or not..

(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.)

I am not, by the way, defending tagging. I hate that the proprietors of small, family-owned stores have to repaint their walls over and over, and that some of LA’s most beautiful murals have been repeatedly defaced by graffiti. I have often wished I could exchange more than a few terse words with the idiots who kept tagging up Frank Romero’s gorgeous “Going to the Olympics” mural that used to reside along the Hollywood Freeway. (Of course, it was CalTrans that actually managed to destroy the artwork. But that’s another topic altogether.)


I even pretty much buy the whole “broken windows” theory. (This is the theory of crime prevention popularized by criminologists, George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson. The idea is that if one controls the small, quality-of-life crimes in any given neighborhood—the metaphorical broken windows—community members feel less helpless and more able to “reinforce the informal control mechanisms of the community itself.” When community members began exerting their own control, goes the theory, the big crimes will lessen as well. In many of LA’s communities, graffiti is the most obvious form of broken window to address.)

However we already have laws about spray-painting messages on property not your own. In fact, ever since that dream statute for the law-and-order obsessed, Proposition 21, passed in 2000—lowering the ceiling for felony vandalism from its former $50,000 threshold to $400—comparatively minor outings by the young and the foolish toting spray cans may be prosecuted as felonies with up to three years in prison.

One would think that would be enough.

But apparently one would be wrong.

“I’m going to put together an end-of-days scenario for these guys,” Trutanich said. “If you want to tag, be prepared to go to jail. And I don’t have to catch you tagging. I can just catch you . . . with your homeboys.”


In Sacramento, our legislators are battling desperately to find some way to cut California’s eat-everything corrections budget by incarcerating fewer people in this prison benighted state. And now our new city attorney wants criminalize and lock up taggers who hang out with each other—as part of some half-hatched scare-em-straight plot?

This is really, really not an encouraging omen.

When Gold questioned Trutanich about why he was “proposing to adopt the same tactics police use on the city’s toughest criminals against people who are typically viewed as more of an annoyance,” the city attorney had a ready answer.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “they are no less of a gang.”

To support that contention, he pointed to several incidents in which people have been shot and killed after confronting graffiti vandals in residential areas — a Valinda man in 2006, for instance, and a Pico Rivera woman a year later.

Yeah. Well. About that “no less than a gang” thing, Mr. City Attorney: At the end of the day, as you put it, with all due respect, that just isn’t the case.

Here’s the deal: When tagging crews start packing firearms and shooting at innocent people—or at each other— we no longer call them taggers. That’s banging, dude. One is no longer in outlaw graffiti artist territory; one has moved, by definition, into gangsterland.

Gold talked to the ACLU’s Peter Bibring who doesn’t think Trutanich can pull off this idea of a tagger injunction, that it will be found unconstitutional. I think Bibring is right. There is much about even the run-of-the mill gang injunction that skates perilously close to the edge of constitutionality. I suspect this tagger injunction plan will topple easily right off the edge. (See the article for more on that.) If all this goes forward, we will find out, I guess.

Right this minute, LA has 43—count em—43 injunctions against gangs.. When Trutanich was elected in many of us had hoped that he would start dialing back some of the injunctions as no longer needed, while keeping the most relevant ones and making sure that those were sharply targeted at the right people and gangs. This tagger idea is philosophically a huge step in the exact opposite direction. So what exactly is going on?

Mr. City Attorney…. um.. Nuch….. I met you a few months ago. Remember?

We had a nice chat. You seemed intelligent and sensible. (Not all power mad, or anything.)

Thus, I’m going to hope that you merely lost your head a little with this crazy tagger injunction idea.

Okay, fine. It can happen. You may have a Do-Over. No problem.

But just one.
PS: The Daily News has a short editorial on the issue.
PPS: I have no idea how the comments got closed for a time on this post. (Ghosts, I tell you.) But as you can see, they’re open now. A thank you to Woody for flagging the problem.


  • Trutanich has enough known gang members to arrest in the Sanctuary City aka The Gang Capital of the World.

    Trutanich should enlist the help of Sheriff Joe and start enforcing immigration laws if he wants to reduce crimes and gangs. With the city and state going broke and California’s ever increasing unemployment, the free-ride of illegal immigrants has to come to an end.

    Here is yet another often repeated story about gangs and the use of agents from the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which means more illegal alien criminals in California cities.,0,7098701.story?page=2

    And of course we have yet another story from the poster illegal alien family from Drew St and the Avenues gang here in Los Angles.

    “ A man was found dead of a gunshot wound to the chest on Drew Street in Glassell Park August 23. The body of Ilario Perez, 43, was discovered about 7:15 a.m. in the 3400 block of Northeast Los Angeles’ notorious Drew Street. A few hours after the shooting, police arrested Jorge “Grinch” Pena and Justin Carlin, two alleged Avenues gangsters out on parole.”

    The Avenues gangsters of Drew Street were the subject of a major federal and local law enforcement crackdown in June of 2008 after Avenues gangster Danny Leon – brandishing an AK-47 – was gunned down by LAPD officers on Drew Street, just a few feet away from his family’s notorious drug den. In the federal sweep, authorities netted dozens of Avenues gangsters, including Leon’s mother, Maria “Chata” Leon, who was considered to be the matriarch of a drug-dealing family of gangsters who lived on Drew Street for decades. The house where Leon and her family lived was torn down by the city last February. Pena, who is in his early 20s, is the nephew of Leon. He was previously in prison for drug and weapons charges.”

  • How in the world can people paint those giant pieces of graffiti, especially in prominent public places, without someone seeing and reporting them or a police car driving by while the crime is in progess?

    The city should appoint a conservative art critic (like me) to compose ridiculing and insulting reviews of these “pieces of art” that aren’t and have the reviews painted over the graffiti.

    I’m talking off the top of my head here, but couldn’t a judgment be obtained against the gangs, rather than just individuals, that at least requires them to pay for clean-up and punitive damages since it’s their tags on the walls? What’s their addresses?

  • Well-said, Celeste. Exasperating how many people supporting this scheme misconstrue critics’ objections as supporting tagging or criminal activity, which couldn’t be further from the truth. That this city attorney fosters that confusion and panders to those people is very disturbing.

    Even Woody’s suggestion that gangs (as well as the taggers and the parents of juvenile taggers who ARE tagging) should be made to pay for clean-up seems to have more merit.

  • I’m talking off the top of my head here, but couldn’t a judgment be obtained against the gangs, rather than just individuals, that at least requires them to pay for clean-up and punitive damages since it’s their tags on the walls?

    Seems like it would be a wise use of the civil RICO statutes.

  • It may have changed, but, while civil suits were allowed under RICO, they used to be generally tossed out by the district courts. However, that remedy was used in the Rampart decision of Diaz v. Gates, which really wasn’t an appropriate use of RICO in my view, which doesn’t mean a lot on this issue. But, since liberals championed it, then maybe I’m right.

    – – –

    Hey, Celeste. Do you subscribe to Justice Denied? It could make for hours of fun liberal reading.

  • Agreed, Celeste. This is way overboard. Vandalism is all it is, and since it is not gang related, it doesn’t require a drastic solution.

    Personally, I find some taggers to be pretty good. I have fantasized owning a box car or two and having some good taggers paint them.

    Of course, then the others, since too many taggers have no respect for anything, would paint over it.

    Oh well.

  • The initial reaction to Trutanich’s tagging crew injunction is understandably extreme on both sides. On the one hand, those who have seen our city blighted by spray painted initials, such as “KAM 13” are encouraged at the prospect of seeing those responsible for the millions of dollars it costs to clean up their vandalism, punished. On the other side, others sees this as some sort of over reaction that will unconstitutionally inhibit youthful congregation.

    So let’s get a few facts straight here. First of all, “tagging” is a crime – it’s called vandalism, defined in Penal Code Section 594 as “defaces with graffiti or other inscribed material.” It is not protected speech under the 1st Amendment, that is well settled law.

    Second, in order for anyone to be the subject of an injunction, they must have a prior criminal conviction for a crime, in this case 594PC.

    Third, that prior conviction for 594PC has to be one where the graffiti was not simply an individual’s initials, name or proclamation of a youthful crush, but something where the graffiti was a representative of an association of individuals who “deface with graffiti or other inscribed material.” An example of this form of vandalism was “KAM 13” which, for those of your readers unfortunate enough to live in Boyle Heights will recall, was sprayed relentlessly around the neighborhood as this group of taggers sought to establish their identity as a tagging crew. KAM 13 evolved into a fully fledged criminal street gang when violent conflicts with other tagging crews resulted in gunfire rather than spray paint.


    Fourth, much to the chagrin of the ACLU who leapt into this debate feet first without choosing to educate the public of the rigors of how injunctive relief is obtained, an injunction is not a fiat or law proposed by the City Attorney. It is something issued by a judge after a hearing where the evidence has to prove that there is a group of individuals identified by their prior convictions for 594PC, who continually commit this crime in the name of their particular group; such as “KAM 13.”

    Fifth, if a judge were convinced that the evidence proves that identifiable convicted individuals who associate for the purpose of committing acts of vandalism should be prevented from associating with each other, then before that injunction becomes effective, those individuals have to be served with the injunction. They have to be told that they cannot associate with their fellow convicts.

    The fact that an injunction is only issued after a hearing and presentation of evidence before a judge is one of the reasons why the ACLU has failed to show that injunctions are unconstitutional, and shows that their comment on this latest proposed injunction is disingenuous and inflammatory.

    Celeste, while I have a great deal of respect for you and your ideals( many of which I share), I wonder if after reading this you have a different opinion? It will not be the case that kids will be summarily scooped up and arrested for hanging out. They have to be kids who are 1) already convicted of PC594, and 2) the prior act of 594PC had to have been one where the object of the vandalism can be shown to be promotion of the “tagging crew,” not merely youthful exuberance.

    I think we all remember the case of “Zoner” the idiot who tagged the MTA bus while the Mayor was doing a photo op. He ultimately re-offended despite the Mayor’s counsel. But he never could have been the subject of an injunction because he acted alone. The terms of his probation were all that could be imposed on him.

    Finally, you took a jab at Trutanich for not “dialing back some of the injunctions as no longer needed.” You rightly state that there are currently 43 injunctions in place and, yes, none have been quashed. Those 43 injunctions effect approximately 8,000 identified gang members.

    That’s 8,000 out of the approximately 40,000 identified gang members in the City of Los Angeles. Each and every one of those 8,000 enjoined gang members can apply to have the terms of the injunction lifted. It’s no secret. Father Boyle knows all about it. So if a person feels that they should not be enjoined, they have a way out. All they have to do is ask and show that they’re no longer involved in the gang lifestyle, that they’ve turned their lives around, and they’re trying to live that same way your or I do. That the terms of their injunction should be “dialed back,” to use your terminology.

    So, Celeste, why don’t you contact Trutanich and ask him how many of the 8,000 have applied to have their injunctions quashed? Ask him how many have had their wish granted. Ask him, don’t speculate.

    After you’ve had that discussion, please tell us that you’re still convinced that tagging crews should not be the subject of an injunction, and please tell us how many gang members want to have their injunctions dialed back.

  • I’m oppose to the entire idea – it will do nothing to lower vandalism related crime.
    Gang injunctions work well for gangs but it will do nothing to solve the vandalism problem in LA. This is all a political horseshit stunt to make a group of politicians and certain influential citizens happy.
    Your views and outline on KAM13 are incorrect…..they were not trying to establish themselves as a tagging crew. KAM13 was already a full blown out sureno gang and they were vandalizing – not tagging to establish themselves as a credible south sider gang in Boyle Heights. KAM13 had no original orgin or terrority to claim – so they created one.
    Today, many tagging crews that have grown in great numbers – will eventually get threats from the Mexican Mafia to drop the markers and switch over their focus to a sureno gang.
    KAM13 like KCC13 NTS13 and many other tagging crews that have either converted over or have been completely engulfed as a clique to the dominating gang in their area – its either by force or by agreement – but its going to happen.
    All these tagging crews that are borderline gangs – will hold a meeting with members and advised that the crew is turning over – you have a choice – leave it or jump on the bandwagon and bang the 13.
    I can give everyone a good outline – history and credible concrete rebuttals to why this tagging injunction wont work….I just really dont have the time right now.
    Plus, Los Angeles has many other more important critical criminal issues than dealing with taggers.
    The problem is that all the good investigators (those that know the streets) wish not to deal with taggers or vandalism related crimes. They have stolen guns to recover and murder suspects to catch.

  • Poplockerone said it all very succinctly—better than I would have.

    As for those who have been able to jump through the necessary hoops to get off the gang list and out of the injunctions, last time I asked, one has done it successfully.

    The problem, as I have written about before here and here…

    ….is this off-ramp isn’t yet really all that functional. I know the City Attorney’s office genuinely intends to make it MORE functional, which is great, and I don’t know what their progress is on that yet.

    Are you saying that all 8000 are so gang involved that they don’t qualify? If so, you’re uninformed. See my examples.

    In any case, the person in the CA’s office with the best access to any recent figures is out of the office for a few days.

    But, Kelvin, I’m not sure I get your point. This isn’t about gang injunctions. I don’t have a specific argument with any particular gang injunction or I would have made it (as I did when I wrote about the idiotic and ill planned OVC injunction out in Orange County back in May).

  • The point or points Poplockerone made seems to be 1) KAM 13 and the other tagging crews mentioned exemplify an inevitable transition from vandalism to fully fledged criminal street gangs. I don’t disagree, indeed that is the point and the very reason why enjoining nascent gangs is both constitutional and part of the solution.

    2) LAPD’s “good investigators … wish not to deal with taggers or vandalism related crimes,” is another part of the problem. Since when did we allow LAPD to pick and choose what crimes to investigate? Anyone who pays taxes in LA has a right to expect the police to enforce the law. Of course, it’s far more attractive for cops to arrest fully fledged felons, than spotty faced teens committing misdemeanors. The point made by Poplockerone seems to be that it’s better to wait until a tagging crew becomes a serious criminal threat before wasting their time on crime prevention. I do not agree.

    As for the way out of gang injunctions, I’m not saying that the 8,000 who are subject to injunctions are not qualified to apply. I am saying that the way out of an injunction is to apply. How many have applied and what is the status of their applications? By all means find out what the score is when your contact at the City Attorney’s office is back. I think we would all like to know if there’s a problem here.

  • I agree with Kelvin’s take but Poplockerone knows what he’s talking about. I would much rather have snagged a felon any day than some tagger. However, it’s all relative to taking criminals off the street and making the community more a place to raise a family than now.

    I never thought of how taggers would be jumped into established gangs but it makes sense. So in fact dealing with these guys, based on numbers alone and the real possibility they will end up in hard core gangs makes sense doesn’t it?

  • Look… the only tagger crew that actually became a real, full fledged, “street gang” (of concern) was KAM13. They where such a concern that in fact they were the first street gang to get a Gang Injunction in Boyle Heights, even before all the other (& older) street gangs of East L.A. This was because they took over the narcotic trade in their neighborhood and the way they did it, not for GRAFFITI. Remember, KAM13- (the only tagging crew to ACTUALLY become a real street gang)- converted into a gang in the early 1990’s. “No other crew has since been such a concern”.
    Realistically, One can-not compare “KCC OR NTS” ect… with KAM13. So we more than likely will never see another tagger crew get out of hand, like KAM13 did. Come-on… this is 2010 (just about). Those early 90’s taggers, that became gangsters, are mostly dead, crippled, or doing life in prison. Believe me… these new 2010 tagger kids are not like before. These are new times we’re in. The worst is gone with the 90’s. Actually, if you take a good look around and think about it, you’ll see that most youths today are being “positively” influenced by the few survivors, of the L.A. 1990’S (Their parents, uncles, big brothers, hip-hop artist, ect…). They seem to be more articulate than the generation before them. They seem to just want to have fun and express their optimism, where-as taggers of the 90’s were crying-out their pessimism.
    As a society, We should accept some-kind of teenage rebellious expression… And why-not a little FORBIDDEN-ART? What do you expect? Vandalism has been an American tradition (for teenage rebels) since before “Trutanich” (by-the-way, that name would be a cool tagger name) was even thought-of. I say we should nurture this. Because thanks to the few survivors of the 90’s, we have all this great fashion, and art, being projected through every type of modern media. Doesn’t that designer t-shirt you have on makes you feel alive in this dead economy? A lot of good actually came out of graffity art… at least to designing and marketing corporations, hense… all of us.
    LET’S NOT GIVE UP ANOTHER CIVIL LIBERTY JUST FOR A POLITICAL-PUBLICITY-STUNT, which of course… only targets us minorities. Trutanich, your reasoning must be more clouded then Delgadio’s.

  • I am 57, grew up in so central LA. I never was mistaken for a gangster, never spray painted any words or Art on pvt or public property. I never had the urge to tatoo my entire body or any part of it. My point is, don’t “hang Out”, dont stand around at the liquor store, DO study, do learn English, do take advantage of all the oppty in America. The police will leave you alone if you don’t look like a killer or psycho. Do play sports, or lift wts, do something to improve yourself. I went to college, BA Math, then enlisted in the USMC. Do something to improve your life. do not destroy other people’s property. Some day you will own a home or business.You will not like taggers.


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