Los Angeles ordered to alter use of gang injunctions
Los Angeles police and prosecutors can no longer cover entire areas of the city with gang warrants and must instead use them in a more targeted and targeted manner as part of a court settlement reached last month.
The settlement resolves a class action lawsuit filed four years ago by the American Civil Liberties Union in Southern California and the Youth Justice Coalition. In the lawsuit, the city groups accused the city of violating the civil rights of the thousands of residents implicated in the gang orders without having the opportunity to challenge their nomination as gang members in court.
A federal judge ruled in March 2018 that it is likely that the city’s enforcement proceedings will be suspended if the case goes to court and that the city will be unable to enforce almost all active injunctions.
The orders, which are civil court orders from judges, are used across the state and are designed to make it difficult for gangs to operate by preventing members from gathering among themselves or with staff, wearing gang colored clothing, or engaging in other activities operate neighborhoods that have been viewed by law enforcement as turf of a particular gang. Suspicious violations were usually arrested by the police and charged with criminal contempt.
The LAPD has relied heavily on orders since the 1980s when street gangs began to blossom in Los Angeles. However, when looking for restraints, city officials usually asked the judges to impose them on an entire street gang or gang faction, rather than on suspected members of the gang. After a judge approved an injunction, LAPD investigators and prosecutors identified individuals from the prosecutor’s office as gang members or employees subject to the injunction.
In the lawsuit, ACLU attorneys argued that the process was unconstitutional as the city did not have to bear the burden of proof before including someone in an injunction.
The allegations gained momentum when the LAPD came under fire for the way it has been monitoring gang activity over the past few years.
Three officials were charged with mistakenly classifying people as gang members earlier this year. This scandal has forced the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office to investigate hundreds of cases in which the officers testified. The California Attorney General has also banned other law enforcement agencies from using LAPD records uploaded to the state’s highly competitive gang database earlier this year due to concerns about the accuracy of the information provided by LAPD.
There are currently 46 “permanent orders” across the city, comprising 79 different gangs or factions. However, in light of the deal, police are not enforcing it against individuals, said Rob Wilcox, a prosecutor’s spokesman.
In the future, gang orders can only be enforced against named defendants who, in accordance with the provisions of the settlement, were given the opportunity to contest their gang designation in court. Actions for injunctive relief also expire after five years.
The comparison does not include payouts by the city. Melanie Ochoa, a senior ACLU attorney who worked on the case, said the class of the lawsuit consists of an estimated 9,000 people injured in Los Angeles with no opportunity to challenge their admission to court.
“This agreement strikes the right balance – protecting individual civil liberties and protecting communities from gang violence,” said Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer responded to questions about the settlement.
Feuer said he intended to continue to use gang orders, but to do so more sensibly “on a case-by-case basis”.
Ochoa criticized the LAPD’s long history of enforcement, saying the department’s comprehensive, unchecked approach had unfairly profiled color communities. She said she was relieved to see that her use was severely restricted.
“I don’t know how many of these cases will have to come up for the LAPD to really just change its approach and give up looking for new and creative ways to put an official veneer on black and Latino harassment [men], especially young men who are just trying to exist in these communities, ”she said.
Questions about the necessity and value of dispositions have been open for years. In 2016, when the ACLU filed its lawsuit, around 8,900 people were affected by the rulings. A year later, the prosecution published the results of a review of their injunctions and found more than 7,300 people who were no longer subject to court orders.
Many people in LA were still exposed to the injunctions despite either moving out of the neighborhood where the orders were relevant or breaking long ties with gangs. In some cases the names of the dead were still attached to the orders. Law enforcement agencies across California have begun to move away from the enforcement of injunctions in recent years due to a mix of public setbacks or concerns about law enforcement violations similar to those in Los Angeles.
While gang violence and violent crime in the city have decreased dramatically overall over the past few decades, the downward trend stalled this year as shootings and homicides increased amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The city had recorded 335 murders on Saturday, up 33% from the previous year. The shootings increased by nearly 40%.
Officials have attributed much of this violence to gang members who police believe have grown bolder in their willingness to open fire on groups of people. As of December 5, according to LAPD data, gang-related murders detected by police increased 29% year over year.
When asked about the injunction, LAPD chief Michel Moore said he supported the revised approach, adding that the new policy will ensure that restrictions on gang members are “justified and a result of their individual behavior rather than a broad description of their gang lifestyle . ”
Times Staff Writer Kevin Rector contributed to this report.