Urban Peace Institute Challenges Fullerton Police Department Use of CalGang Database

Judge Sherri Honer of the Orange County Superior Court refused to order the Fullerton Police Department to remove Ruben Lona from the CalGang database. This was the first time an Orange County judge heard a request for removal from CalGang under gang database reforms enacted after a scathing 2017 audit of CalGang conducted by the California State Auditor.

Mr. Lona was represented pro bono by the Urban Peace Institute, as the organization believes the unjust tracking and labeling of people of color is an ineffective strategy to create peace. Mr. Lona is a lifelong Fullerton resident who openly admits to gang involvement when he was young. However, Mr. Lona has matured and successfully transformed his life and is no longer engaged in any criminal and gang activity. Mr. Lona is a dedicated partner and father who has graduated from trade school, and since developed a successful career in specialty construction. His days are now filled with spending time with his family, attending soccer practice to cheer on his children, and balancing his full-time career. 

“I want to be a positive role model for my kids to look up to. I don't want to hide who I was from my children, but I want to show them that I am not a criminal. Most importantly, I don't want to negatively influence them by being associated with a gang in any way,” remarks Mr. Lona regarding his desire to be removed from the CalGang database.

Judge Honer denied Mr. Lona’s request on the basis that Mr. Lona admitted he was involved with a gang years ago and because Mr. Lona was recently seen with a Cal State Fullerton hat after being told by law enforcement that they believed Cal State Fullerton gear is gang clothing.  In reaching her decision, Judge Honer admitted evidence to which Mr. Lona had no opportunity to challenge. In this way, Judge Honer’s decision is like the decisions in two San Diego cases where a judge also ruled based on evidence the alleged gang members were not allowed to challenge. One of the San Diego cases is currently in appeal.

“Today’s decision is another example of courts denying due process and failing to carry out the will of the state legislature. The gang database removal process was crafted in Sacramento so that people like Mr. Lona who have ended their gang involvement can get a clean start. But as long as courts refuse to let people argue their case, the law will not achieve its purpose. It does no one any good when police treat people like gang members when they are not,” comments Sean Garcia-Leys, Senior Staff Attorney with the Urban Peace Institute.

“This case is about more than just the civil liberties of one person. It spotlights Orange County’s continued reliance on ineffective strategies to fight gang crime. It’s time for a new approach. Orange County must implement strategies that build trust with communities that are heavily policed and must support people transitioning out of gangs with community-based resources,” remarks Fernando Rejón, Executive Director of the Urban Peace Institute.

Most jurisdictions throughout the state have recognized that labeling people as gang members in the CalGang database is an ineffective method for promoting community safety. According to a recent report from the California Department of Justice, over 70% of all California law enforcement agencies who were using CalGang have stopped adding people to the database. Still, Orange County law enforcement agencies remain steadfast in their use of the system. Orange County is 4th in California for the total number of people labeled as gang members in CalGang and is 2nd in California for the number of juveniles entered in CalGang in 2018.

Mr. Lona is currently considering appealing this decision. Urban Peace Institute will continue to support Mr. Lona in his legal efforts to be removed from the CalGang database, and successfully demonstrate the tremendous transformation he has made to lead a peaceful life.  This decision was recently covered by the Orange County Register.