Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 7:06 a.m.
The saga has trudged on for more than two years now, but Yvonne Elizondo still speaks about the Orange Varrio Cypress' gang injunction with freshness and fervor.
A tinge of redness takes to her cheeks as she recalls the day it all started: February 23, 2009. That's the day that several kids she knew through a nonprofit counseling gig were served with a 600-or-so page gang injunction document.
Many of the kids, Elizondo says, had no gang affiliation at all. In fact, they'd never even had a run in with the law. What was one girl's worst offense? She used to live in the same home as an uncle who was now in jail.
Back then, Elizondo remember thinking to herself: "What the heck is a gang injunction?" Now, two years and a lot of research later, Elizondo is quite well versed on the injunctions, which the district attorney's website describes as "a civil order that restricts or prohibits documented gang members from participating in specific acts or activities that may not be inherently criminal within a designated area, or 'Safety Zone.'"
The injunction in Orange imposed a 10 p.m. curfew and prohibited people from being in the presence of any open alcohol container, among other restrictions, says Belinda Escobosa Helzer, an ACLU attorney on the case. "One of our clients described it as being a prisoner in his own home," Escobosa Helzer says.
"The judge decided the case in our favor and declared their actions unconstitutional," Escobosa Helzer says.
While John Anderson, assistant district attorney in charge of the gang unit, admits, "The bottom line is that we lost this case," he certainly doesn't think the process is over.
Anderson called federal Judge Fairbank's decision "ripe for appeal." The next stop for the case is the 9th circuit court of appeals.
The specific question asked at federal court, Anderson says, was whether suspected gang members have a right to be heard in court and defend themselves before the injunction is served to them, Anderson says.
Anderson called Fairbank's decision unprecedented, saying, "No other group is afforded the same constitutional protections that the court in Vasquez (the case Fairbank ruled on in May) has found to exist for criminal street members."
Furthermore, Anderson called the judge's decision "broad-based" and "unclear." "The opinion really raised as many questions as it answered," he says.
Although he acknowledged that further litigation will be pricy, Anderson says he thinks it's worth it, because the gang injunctions have "been remarkably effective" in decreasing crime rates thus far.
Orange County currently has gang injunctions in the following cities: Santa Ana, Anaheim, San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente, Garden Grove and the latest addition - Fullerton.