Santa Ana Police Chief Carlos Rojas and Commander Tammy Franks offered inanities when asked by community members last November if the po-po was looking to place a gang injunction that would affect the Townsend Street barrio in central SanTana. "We are constantly looking at data related to all our hot spot areas," Rojas said at the time, in response to councilman Roman Reyna. "If there are gang injunctions to be done here in the city, I will be at that community meeting." Commander Franks tried to assure skeptical audience members that a SAPD Gang Unit presentation at the KidWorks center that tipped off residents merely spoke of gang injunctions in the hypothetical.
But earlier this month, the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA) literally filed for a preliminary gang injunction on Townsend, and Santa Ana police served notices to those named in it just last week. So much for that community meeting, eh Chief Rojas?
The Weekly obtained a copy of the 500-page-plus court document. Submitted and signed by Tony Rackaukas, it names Townsend Street as a "criminal gang" that is "creating a public nuisance." Twenty-nine alleged members are listed by name in the complaint, but more people can fall under its provisions in the future. The boundaries of the gang injunction's so-called "safety zone" is as exactly as residents said Gang Unit presenters noted during their KidWorks presentation: West First Street, South Raitt Street, West McFadden Avenue and South Sullivan Street. Whoops!
"At the public safety meeting, the chief treated us as if we were overreacting," Carolyn Torres recalls of the November gathering on the issue. "I felt I was lied to, not just by the chief, not by just the DA office, but by the city council as well. They either didn't care enough to check in or they knew what was happening."
When asked for comment on the filing, the OCDA's office offered little in response. "We are legally unable to discuss anything that is under seal by the court," said OCDA spokeswoman Farah Emami.
Townsend Street is noted as an active gang in the neighborhood dating back to the 1970s. All the suffocating prohibitions of association in public places that gang injunctions entail are present. "Do not stand, sit, walk, drive, bicycle, gather or appear with anyone you know to be a member, participant, associate, servant, employee aider or abetter," or "anyone you know to be acting under, in concert with, for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with the TOWNSEND STREET criminal street gang," reads the document. Exceptions exist for school and church, but not for how people served get to those locations.
In legal arguments in favor of a preliminary and permanent injunction, the OCDA cites criminal statistics dating back from January 2010 detailing, among others, two murders, two attempted murders and 22 gun/weapons sale or possession convictions. It further claims that the prohibitions of the injunction don't infringe upon constitutional rights. But that's exactly what Chican@s Unidos activists opposed to the move criticize the most.
"The larger issues are violations of civil rights and due process," Torres says. "We have two minors on the injunction that are brother and sister. How are they going to hang out at the quad of their apartment? How are they going to be together at a family BBQ?" She mentions how those that are named have but a few hours before a judge, but authorities have had four years to build a case against them. The gang injunction against Townsend Street would be the 13th in the county. The OCDA first filed against Santa Nita with a safety zone covering Santa Ana and Garden Grove in 2006. Since then, the agency issued at least one injunction per year against various other street gangs.
Relations between the police and the community are off to a rocky start in wake of the news. Chican@s Unidos organized a Townsend community cookout on Saturday when Gang Unit officers arrived towards the end of the event. "There was a man running to get a parking space when they gave chase," Torres says. The Gang Unit detained him briefly before residents began filming the encounter. They ultimately let the man go, but not without tensions building first.
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Activists demanded to know the name of the cops on scene as is their right. "What's your name?" one man asked. In cellphone footage, the Gang Unit officer answered, "Get out of here!" while his partner chimed in, "And when all the shootings occur here, where are you guys at?" he asked.
A hearing for those served in the Townsend gang injunction is set for the morning of July 29 at Orange County Superior Court.
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2