Legal Battle Over Placentia Gang Injunctions Kicks Off

Jennifer Rodas speaks against Placentia gang injunctions during a courthouse press rally
Jennifer Rodas speaks against Placentia gang injunctions during a courthouse press rally
Photo by Gabriel San Roman

An overflow crowd congregated in the hallway outside of Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter J. Wilson's Santa Ana courtroom for a pair of hearings on two new gang injunctions in Placentia. Inside his quarters, Deputy District Attorney Lisa Grossman finally spoke on the gang injunctions her agency had previously been mum on--and she went straight for the jugular during the La Jolla street gang morning hearing.

"I would ask that the permanent injunction be issued today," Grossman said, arguing that La Jolla defaulted in the civil suit. Judge Wilson ultimately granted a preliminary injunction, but for just three of all alleged gang members.

Before making his decision, though, Wilson wondered aloud if the Orange County District Attorney's (OCDA) method of suing street gangs as the defendants instead of alleged cholos claiming them is akin putting the cart before the horse. "Why is the opposite not the proper way to go?" he asked. "Case law clearly indicates you can serve the gang," Grossman countered.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) jumped into the fray. Staff attorney Caitlin Sanderson argued that the question of the entire injunction--preliminary or permanent--should be continued to a later date.

Placentia's historic barrios turned out many burgeoning activists yesterday morning as well as alleged gang members on the injunction list. "There is no need for an injunction," resident Carla Banuelos spoke out during the hearing. "We are safe!"

Judge Wilson noted that he received a letter with hundreds of signatures from Placentia residents echoing Banuelos' sentiment. At the end of the hearing, Wilson allowed for alleged gang members that showed up and others who are locked away in la pinta to be given a stay for now. When he granted the preliminary injunction, a measly three people out of twenty-three remained to be subjected to it.

Anti-gang injunction activists took their protest outside the courthouse for a noontime rally before the second hearing scheduled for the Plas street gang. "Is Placentia a war-zone? No, it's not!" Josh Correa said to onlookers. "Instead of police coming down hard, we need to pump resources into guidance counselors."

Resident Michelle Martinez listed off all the claims of the injunction about the supposed lack of safety of their neighborhoods answering "not true," to all of them. "We were never allowed a public comment period," she added. Martinez noted she delivered the letter with signatures saying how safe residents felt to Judge Wilson.

Filing back in the packed courtroom, residents battled police for open seats. The afternoon Plas hearing followed in the footsteps of La Jolla, only in much quicker fashion. Judge Wilson granted a preliminary injunction for Plas giving a stay to alleged gang members that showed up or are currently jailed, leaving four left to be enjoined. Calling the gang injunctions "complex cases," Wilson handed them over to Judge Kim G. Dunning, an appointee of former California governor Pete Wilson.

"It is apparent from the attendance that this matter has been well publicized," Judge Wilson stated. He acknowledged people listed on the injunctions for showing up and taking the matter seriously. Wilson scheduled a December 21 deadline for them to ready their oppositions before setting another hearing the following month. "Take those dates very seriously," he advised, lest they find themselves enjoined.

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After securing the preliminary injunctions, the OCDA sent out a press release stating violence in the safety zones included gang arrests for four murders between 2010-2015, a surprising stat for longtime residents fighting the move. "Additional crimes were committed in the Safety Zones but not documented because many people that live and work in the neighborhoods are reluctant to cooperate with police for fear of retaliation from the gang," the statement claimed.

Placentia residents who turned out to yesterday's court action handed out fact sheets including a U.S. Crime Index graph showing a precipitous drop in crime in their city between 2010-2013, reiterating how safe they feel in their historic barrios. If the residents are right, the OCDA better be careful. A USC/UCI study on the Verdugo Flats barrio in San Bernardino showed that violence against residents in an area without a heavy gang presence actually increased after an injunction.

The next hearings are scheduled for January 19 in Judge Dunning's courtroom.

Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2

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