The City of Oakland can impose a preliminary gang injunction in Oakland’s Fruitvale district, a judge ruled Friday afternoon in downtown Oakland.
The preliminary injunction that will go into effect is against five alleged members of the Nortenos gang. A total of 40 alleged Nortenos members were named in the complaint filed by the Oakland City Attorney’s office last fall. Friday’s ruling concluded Phase I of the injunction approval process, and the fate of remaining 35 defendants will be considered during Phase II. The ruling imposes a 450-block “safety zone” where the five are prevented from associating with each other, imposes a 10 p.m. curfew and prohibits the men from wearing colors associated with gang membership, as well as other restrictions.
The ruling applies to defendants Abel Manzo and Javier Quintero, who appeared in court several times this spring during hearings to contest the allegations that they are gang members, and also Alberto Acosta, Antonio Lambaren and Joey Anthony Martinez, who did not testify in court.
Today Alameda Superior Court Judge Robert Freedman wrote in his ruling that the city had established “the requisite burden of proof” needed for the court to order a preliminary injunction against the Phase I defendants. The injunction proposed by the city will also be adopted “with modifications” Freedman wrote, which would include an exception to the clothing restrictions that would allow the defendants to wear uniforms required by their employers. Freedman did not specify which other modifications would be included.
The ruling Friday brought to a close a hearing that began four months ago and has been a contentious issue in the city since the suit was filed in October. The City Attorney’s Office maintains the injunction is necessary to stop illegal activity by the Nortenos. In a statement on the City Attorney’s Office’s website, it claims that Norteno gang members are responsible for “decades of murders, assaults, robberies and other crimes committed against residents and businesses in the Fruitvale District.” However, opponents say that the injunction will curb civil liberties and allow police to arrest young people without due process. When the Oakland City Council debated on May 18 whether or not to continue funding gang injunctions, more than 200 people signed up to speak.
In his ruling, Freedman seemed to agree that some civil liberties restrictions would be possible in the injunction, alluding to restrictions in choice of dress by writing that “Civil gang injunctions, if granted, can impose restrictions on individual liberties including freedom of movement, expression and other aspects of personal expression (such as personal attire).”
During a hearing after the ruling was released Friday, the judge and attorneys for both sides discussed what to do about the defendants for Phase II who are incarcerated. An estimated half of the 35 defendants are currently in custody.
Freedman was clearly upset when defense attorney Dennis Cunningham told the judge the defense was unable get in to visit their incarcerated clients. “Folks, you have frustrated me,” Freedman said, adding to Cunningham, “Sir, you represent the people. You must be in contact with them.”
Freedman directed both sides to use their “best effort” to track down the remaining defendants, giving them until a case management conference on July 28.
The defense will appeal today’s ruling granting an injunction against the first five defendants, said Yolanda Huang, a defense attorney for the men named Friday. She said the ruling restricts human rights and does not clearly state who is a gang member. “There was no information in this order as to what constitutes an active gang member,” she said. “There’s no guidance.”
City Attorney’s Office spokesman Alex Katz declined to comment on the ruling.
During the hearing after the ruling a large contingent of injunction opponents were present in the courtroom. As the defense attorneys walked out of the courtroom afterward, a woman offered her support to Cunningham, who replied, “It’s not over.”
After the hearing, defense attorneys met with opponents of the injunction outside the courthouse and Cunningham addressed a group of about 30 people as other attorneys and activists answered questions and gave a press conference in the courtyard on Oak Street. Aurora Lopez of the Stop the Injunction Coalition, who attended the hearing, said she agreed with Cunningham that opposition to the injunction would not end. “If anything it’s fueling the energy of people to push harder,” she said. “As the city attorney and the police department continue to push these strategies we know are ineffective and we know are pushing young people into incarceration and out of their neighborhood, the more we’re going to fight and organize to make sure there’s an end to all [gang] injunctions.”
The court hearings for Phase II will begin December 5, Freedman said at the hearing, noting his desire to have the case resolved by the end of the year, but that the court will likely “not have the time for extra hearings in the time frame suggested.”