Life Off The Database: A Successful Appeal in Orange County


When Jose was a teenager, he admits that he made some poor choices that landed him in juvenile hall. While juvenile hall is intended to act as an early intervention, for Jose and thousands of young men of color, it can spark deepened gang involvement as a means of protection for survival in a harsh environment.  At 15, these mistakes also caused Jose to be labeled as a gang member on California’s gang database. “I was hanging around my friends from preschool, and all of the sudden that caused me to be labeled as a gang member,” reflects Jose.

However, it was not long before Jose realized he wanted to pursue a different path in life. In 2011, he learned his wife was expecting their first child. His choice was clear, he knew he needed to turn his life around to be the father and husband his family deserved. Ever since his transformation, Jose has worked to remove himself from Fullerton’s gang injunction, as well as his labeling on the gang database.

Due to Jose’s inclusion on the database and local gang injunction, he has been targeted and stopped by police more times than he can count. “I couldn’t even drive a few minutes the grocery store without getting pulled over,” Jose remembers. “I have been pulled over with my mother in the car, and even on my way home from the park.” Jose has even been cited for speaking with his backyard neighborhood, with whom he shares a yard and has known his whole life.

Life on the database is more than frustrating for Jose. It causes financial hardship and time away from his family. Even a small violation can easily turn into a $1,400 fine and a two week stay away from his family at the county jail. Gang injunction curfews have also caused Jose to be overlooked for higher paying management positions within his company. At times, he has even moved out of state for months at a time with his family just to stay away from any potential legal issues. “It is not fair I had to leave Fullerton, it’s my home and where my family has support to raise our child,” said Jose.

After reading an article about the continued secrecy of California’s gang database, Jose sought out the Urban Peace Institute and the University of California Irvine’s assistance for help in appealing for his removal. Jose learned that CalGang database uses overly broad criteria to label over 100,000 residents, including children as young as two years old, as gang members. This information is available across law enforcement agencies and has the potential to be shared with federal immigration officials.

Our staff attorney worked with Jose to document his transformation and navigate a complex system to appeal for his removal. After several attempts, Jose became the Urban Peace Institute’s second client to ever be removed from the CalGang database, and the first known successful appeal in Orange County.

“It is just icing on the cake,” comments Jose about his database removal. In March, Jose was also successfully removed from the local gang injunction. He now feels optimistic that he can lead a peaceful life in Fullerton. Moreover, news of his removal could not have come at a better time, as Jose and his wife are now expecting their second child.