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Los Angeles barred from enforcing nearly all gang injunctions, federal judge rules

Peter Arellano in Los Angeles on November 29, 2017. He had been the subject of an Echo Park gang injunction since 2013, along with his father. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

The city of Los Angeles has been barred from enforcing nearly all of its remaining gang injunctions, the latest blow to one of the city’s oldest and most controversial law enforcement initiatives.

In a 22-page order issued Thursday, Chief U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips ruled that the American Civil Liberties Union is likely to prove that most of those subject to the remaining injunctions suffered a due process violation, since the city did not give them an opportunity to challenge the civil restraining orders in court.

Following an audit by the Los Angeles city attorney’s office and the Los Angeles Police Department, 7,300 people were released last year from the conditions of the injunctions, which are civil court orders that can restrict someone from associating with friends, or even family members, in neighborhoods considered to be havens for certain street gangs.

Violating the orders can result in arrest.

Since 2000, the city has enforced injunctions against 79 separate gang sets, encompassing roughly 8,900 people, according to the city attorney’s office. There were about 1,450 people still subject to the orders after last year’s purge, according to a February court filing from the city attorney’s office.

Thursday’s order prevents the city from enforcing any injunctions that were granted before Jan. 19, 2018. Peter Bibring, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU, said that would leave few, if any, Angelenos subject to the orders.

“The court clearly recognizes the way the city of Los Angeles has been enforcing gang injunctions over decades violates due process in a way that makes it likely they will place people on gang injunctions who may not be gang members,” Bibring said Thursday. “This ruling marks the end of gang injunctions as they worked in the city of Los Angeles.”

A spokesman for the city attorney’s office could not immediately comment on the court order. The LAPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In an order issued last September, Phillips wrote that Arellano was “likely to establish that the city did not provide him with due process in enforcing the injunction against him.” On Thursday, Phillips granted a motion seeking to extend that order to all others who were made subject to an injunction before this year.

Critics have long complained that the injunctions are overly broad, claiming that thousands of people were unfairly swept up simply because they knew, or were related to, a gang member. Some also contend the injunctions disproportionately target blacks and Latinos. Many of those included in the orders have never been convicted of a crime.

The ACLU’s lawsuit did not contest the effectiveness of the injunctions — which many have credited with helping curb gang crime at its heights in the late 1990s — but challenged the method of obtaining the injunctions as unconstitutional.

Authorities normally seek an injunction against a gang, rather than an individual, meaning someone can become subject to one of the court orders without being given a chance to disprove his or her alleged gang affiliation in court. Decisions about whom to serve with an injunction are made independently by LAPD investigators and prosecutors.

Only a “handful” of people will remain subject to gang injunctions in the city after Thursday’s ruling, Bibring said. Some of the earliest injunctions sought by the city named individual defendants, meaning those people did have an opportunity to object to their inclusion in court and would not have suffered a due process violation, according to Bibring.

Last year, the city agreed to modify some of its policies for future injunctions. Those targeted will now have 30 days to challenge the city’s determination of their gang status in court before the order becomes enforceable, city attorney’s spokesman Rob Wilcox told the Los Angeles Times last year. Individuals served with injunctions will also be removed from the court orders after five years, unless evidence surfaces that the person is actively engaged in gang or criminal activity, he said.

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© 2018 Los Angeles Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.