At a press conference Thursday at Oakland City Hall, City Attorney John Russo recounted the gruesome events connected to a recent murder attributed to North Oakland’s only street gang, the North Side Oakland gang. On May 16, 2009, after reportedly assassinating Berkeley resident Charles Davis, during their getaway attempt four gang members also allegedly caused a car accident that killed two innocent bystanders, Todd Perea and Floyd Ross. The incident, which resulted in the arrest of four accused gang members on three counts of murder, helped Russo frame his announcement of the Oakland’s most recent tool in the fight against violence: the filing of civil lawsuit for a gang injunction against 19 proven members of the NSO. “While horrific, the
events of May 16 are only a part of the violence perpetrated against our community by this gang,” said Russo.
If successful, the injunction will limit the gang’s ability to congregate in large groups on the street in Oakland, set restrictions that make it more difficult for gang members to commit criminal acts, and also make it easier for the police to monitor gang activity. “This will limit the gang’s ability to do what they do best: plan and execute crime,” said OPD Captain Anthony Toribio.
If granted, this will be the first gang injunction in Oakland. It will prohibit gang activities in designated “Safety Zones,” which include roughly 100 blocks of North Oakland between 1-580, Emeryville, Berkeley and Telegraph Avenue. It will also limit the presence of the gangs on the streets by setting a curfew for the 19 people named in the injunction between the hours of 10 pm and 5 am. If any of the 19 members of the gang are caught engaging in prohibited activities like associating with other gang members, selling drugs, or possessing firearms, they can be found in contempt of court and face six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
These brief jail sentences are effective in breaking up a gang’s ability to plan and execute illegal activities, said OPD Sgt. Bernard Ortiz. “It’s an amazing thing that it does work because it has such a low sentence,” he said. “It’s like a mosquito bite—it’s a nuisance.”
While the May 16th incident brought the actions of the gang to widespread public attention, the North Oakland community has long been aware of their presence. According to problem solving officer Pat Gerrans who works Beat 12X, the Temescal neighborhood, the NSO gang is responsible for the majority of crime through all of North Oakland and in specific areas such as the Golden Gate neighborhood.
The OPD believes that gang activity is related to an increase in violent crime in North Oakland. In 2007 there were three incidences of violent crime in North Oakland that were attributed to NSO members; in 2009, the OPD reported 18 violent crimes, including 7 murders. The NSO gang is known for drug sales and robberies as well, specifically in the “Golden Triangle” area, said Russo. “All the crimes in the area are connected to gang violence, but nobody will talk, they’re too scared,” said Don Link a 30-year North Oakland resident and chair of the Shattuck Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council.
OPD Chief Anthony Batts is familiar with the use of injunctions and believes that they are an effective tool in combating gang violence; during his time on the police force in Long Beach, California, injunctions were enforced in five areas during the mid ‘90s. While he said the injunction is not a cure-all, he called it a tool in “the fight to give the streets back to the good people of Oakland.”
The gang injunction, which the Oakland City Attorney’s office petitioned for this week, was modeled after similar injunctions used in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and was created after consulting experts in L.A. and the gang task force unit at the SFPD, said Russo. For example, gang members can elect to take part in an “opt-out” program that is based on one used in San Francisco. The program allows gang members to be removed from the injunction if they can show evidence that they have left the gang and are working to better their lives through education, mentorship programs or employment.
This is the first time the City of Oakland has gathered enough intelligence on gang membership and activity to pursue an injunction. According to Ortiz and Alex Katz, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s office, the City of Oakland has had difficulty in the past proving gang membership. In 1994, The District Attorney’s Office filed for a gang injunction against the B-Street gang, but was denied on the grounds of unconstitutionality. Then in 1997, the California Supreme Court ruled gang injunctions constitutional, opening the door for cities such as Los Angeles to petition for use. However, in order to avoid racial profiling and the targeting of individuals, the standards for proving the existence of a gang and gang members’ responsibility for crime are stringent.
In order for the City Attorney’s Office to petition for an injunction, the office needed airtight evidence of the NSO’s criminal activity, said the OPD’s Toribio. The injunction petition is based on more than a year and a half of work—including intel collected from criminal reports, inside sources, and conversations with community members—performed by more than 100 police officers, although most of the information collection was done by a group of young problem solving officers (PSOs) who patrol the North Oakland area. Officers Nadia Clark, John Cunnie, Pat Gerrans, and Jason Trode started their investigation in January of 2008, poring over thousands of pages of documents, collecting information, talking to community policing organizations—often during their personal hours without overtime, said Clark. “It was a lot of work,” said Clark, “We had 1,000 pages of evidence to review on top of other PSO duties.”
Local community watch groups “actually deserve some of the credit. It was their talking about the crime that they were seeing that helped point us in the right direction,” said Ortiz. “ Sometimes they think we don’t listen, but we did listen. And they helped.”
All of this information was integral in providing the existence of a gang in order to file for the injunction, said Toribio. “We had a perfect storm of evidence,” he said, “proof of existence, location and community nuisance.”
“Oakland gangs have never been identified like this,” agreed Ortiz.
The gang, though divided into smaller groups by territory, which include the Gaskill Maniacs, the Bushrod Cold Gunnaz 59, 600 The 6, 6100, and ASAP/FT, is a unified force of over 40 members. Currently, 19 members are listed on the injunction request, but more names can be added if an individual meets certain criteria: if police officers or community residents identify someone as a gang member, if there is evidence of past criminal activity, or if the person self-identifies as a gang member. The OPD has also gathered physical descriptions that aid in the identification of members: tattoos, red or blue baseball caps, and certain graffiti and clothing emblazoned with the gang’s name or symbols. A combination of these elements can potentially provide evidence of
membership, but adding new names to the injunction will take the same due process and meticulous proof that was necessary for the first 19, said Toribio. “This is not capricious, this is not arbitrary. We’ve done our homework,” he said.
Toribio said that North Oakland’s problem solving officers are blazing a trail for other officers throughout Oakland; he believes that the small 100-block North Oakland experiment will ultimately spread to other areas of Oakland. He said officers are already working to provide similar documentation on West Oakland gangs to file a gang injunction in that area by spring.
“We are convinced this will be effective in fighting gangs and ending a climate of fear and terror,” he said.
Additional reporting by Anna Bloom. All photos courtesy of the Oakland City Attorney’s office.