Orange County District Attorney on Defense as ACLU Suit Against Gang Injunction is Heard

Tony Rackauckas is at the center of a lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles this afternoon against the Orange County District Attorney's enforcement of gang injunctions.

The formal name of the case is American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) v. Orange County District Attorney (OCDA) Tony Rackauckas and Orange Police Department (OPD) Chief Robert Gustafson.

The ACLU class-action lawsuit alleges the OCDA and OPD "illegally" placed dozens of residents under a gang injunction after first deliberately preventing them from arguing in court that they don't belong to gangs.

That violates the basic tenets of constitutional due process and has imposed probation-like conditions on dozens of youths and adults, subjecting them to curfews and severely limiting their right to associate with family and friends, argues the ACLU.

A gang injunction is a civil order that restricts or prohibits documented gang members from participating in specific acts or activities within a designated area, or "Safety Zone," that may not be inherently criminal.

They are intended to curb intimidating or harassing behavior by subjecting gang members who enter the zones with arrest, prosecution and up to six months in jail.

The gang is named as the defendant under the injunction, which covers all "active, documented members" and their associates. In September 2008, the OCDA's fifth gang injunction in Orange County was made permanent against Orange Varrio Cypress (OVC), an "Orange criminal street gang" with 150 active, documented members since 1990.

A rival gang embroiled in a violent turf war in Orange was served to 108 members of that group in February and March of 2009, according to the OCDA, which claims crime has dropped in the Safety Zones ever since.

After 62 of those named in the OVC injunction challenged the allegations that they are gang members or that a gang injunction is justified, Rackauckas dropped them from the complaint--and then two weeks later named them in a new injunction against the gang and "all members of the gang, whether or not named in the original lawsuit."

"District Attorney Rackauckas is playing a game of bait-and-switch," Belinda Escobosa Helzer, a staff attorney with the ACLU/SC's Orange County office, said at the time. "No public servant should be allowed to subvert the judicial process and deprive residents of their right to be heard in court or develop a full and fair record."

Among those caught up in "the unlawful and overzealous enforcement" of the injunction, the ACLU says, is Miguel Bernal Lara, a 21-year-old college student who was served with the injunction "and is now afraid to leave his home or participate in any protest against" it, even at Orange City Hall, because it is within the 3.78-square-mile enforcement area.

Also swept up by the injunction, the ACLU said at the time, was a then-17-year-old who faced arrest for walking home from school. Why was he on the list? Because police once caught him standing next to a longtime friend and classmate who'd been identified as a gang member.

"It's outrageous that the district attorney is depriving dozens of residents of their basic due process rights," Hector Villagra, director of the ACLU/SC's Orange County office, said at the time the suit was filed. "None of the individuals represented in this suit have had the opportunity to defend themselves before a judge, yet they are being treated like criminals. Nobody should have their liberty taken from them without the chance to present their case."

Prediction: A judge who rules the due process of those named in the injunction is being denied and/or the injunction is not constitutionally valid will be branded a liberal activist judge by T-Rack and his ilk.

Today's case is being heard at the Federal Courthouse, Courtroom 9, 312 N. Spring St., Los Angeles.


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