Orange County Gang Injunctions Withdrawn
On March 7, 2018, the Orange County District Attorney (OCDA) withdrew its attempt to impose gang injunctions on two communities in the city of Placentia. After more than two years, the OCDA has been unable to prove that any of the 50 people they alleged were gang members were actually active gang members. As a result, the injunctions never became enforceable. Any reduction in crime in Placentia can only be attributed to other causes.
This outcome is unprecedented for an Orange County gang injunction. In 2015, the OCDA filed two lawsuits in state superior court, People v. Plas (30-2015-00810781) and People v. La Jolla (30-2015-00810734). Both suits claimed that gangs “terrorize and intimidate" Placentia, though these claims were not supported by either community members or crime statistics at that time or now.
Unlike in most other gang injunction lawsuits brought by the OCDA, in the cases of Plas and La Jolla, several of the people who the OCDA sought to subject to the injunction quickly contacted community members and activists, including the Law Enforcement Accountability Network, Chicanos Unidos, and the Well of Life church. The activists in turn contacted the ACLU and the UCI School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, and later, the Urban Peace Institute. With the help of attorneys, the alleged gang members were able to oppose the injunction before the court issued the usual default judgment against the gang.
“It speaks to the ineffectiveness of gang injunctions that the OCDA was never able to prove that a single person belonged on these gang injunctions, commented Urban Peace Institute Staff Attorney Sean Garcia-Leys, who has defended people wrongly accused of gang membership since the beginning of the injunction lawsuits. “If gang crime has dropped even though no one was ever put on the injunction, it shows that gang injunctions are unnecessary and should all be dissolved. There are far more effective public safety strategies than gang injunctions."
As a result of this community action and evolving gang injunction law, spurred mostly by the 2013 Vasquez v. Rackauckas case, the process for subjecting a person to a gang injunction has become more difficult for the DA. In the past, the OCDA could just sue the gang, and when the gang inevitably failed to appear in court, the OCDA could then add whomever they wished to the gang injunction by simply having police tell the person he or she was subject to the injunction. But now, the OCDA must prove that each person they wish to subject to the injunction is a currently active gang member. The OCDA was never able to prove current active gang membership for any of the nearly 50 people they claimed were gang members.