New: Injunction Issued Against Gang on Oakland-Berkeley Border

By Jeff Shuttleworth, BCN
Thursday June 03, 2010 - 10:38:00 PM

A judge has issued an injunction that makes it illegal for 15 named members of the North Side Oakland gang to associate within a 100-block area in Oakland. 

The order by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert Freedman, which was issued on Wednesday, was expected because he said at a hearing last week that the Oakland city attorney's office had presented "clear and convincing evidence" that the gang is a public nuisance and its members should be prohibited from conducting certain specified activities in a "safety zone" in an area in North Oakland that stretches to the city's borders with Berkeley and Emeryville. 

Freedman said he would issue an injunction once its language and restrictions were finalized. 

When he filed suit against the North Side Oakland gang in February, City Attorney John Russo said the city is targeting the gang because of severe and increasing violence associated with its members. He said the gang was involved in 18 serious crimes in 2009, including seven murders. 

But the ACLU of Northern California and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area filed friend of the court briefs opposing the proposed gang injunction, alleging that it would give the Oakland Police Department wide discretion to label people gang members without having to present any evidence to a judge or even charge them with a crime. 

The city originally named 19 suspected gang members, but four people were removed because they're already in jail for a pending triple murder case and aren't expected to get out of jail anytime soon. 

Among the injunctions restrictions against gang members are not associating with other gang members in public, not confronting or intimidating witnesses, not possessing firearms or other weapons and not participating in drug activity. 

Violating the injunction will be considered contempt of court and be a criminal misdemeanor offense punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. 

Russo said in a statement today, "We are grateful that Judge Freedman recognized the immediate threat posed by the members of this criminal enterprise." 

He said, "By itself, an injunction cannot solve all gang-related crime. But it is an opportunity to change a neighborhood and prevent more gang members from destroying their lives - as well as the lives of uninvolved bystanders." 

Russo said police will personally serve the injunction to each of the 15 named gang members, at which point it will become effective. He said his office will report back to the judge within 120 days of the implementation of the injunction.  

Russo said the city intends to file at least two more injunctions against gangs in other parts of Oakland this fall. 

Attorney Jory Steele of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California said her organization continues to oppose gang injunctions. 

Steele said, "The injunction the court issued today is far more narrow and limited than what the city attorney originally proposed, due to widespread opposition from the community and civil rights groups." 

She said, "These injunctions have proven ineffective and, in other cities where they have been enacted, have actually harmed the communities they were intended to protect." 

She said the city attorney should conduct a formal evaluation of the injunction after one year to assess its impact on crime and on the community as a whole and such an assessment should occur before the city seeks additional injunctions against other gangs. 

According to Russo, gang injunctions were upheld as constitutional by the California Supreme Court in 1997.